Looking like a thin, penurious Bill Gates, Todd Solondz, 36, pretty much fits the adult profile of a guy who got called names in junior high. He nevertheless claims the funny-grim Welcome to the Dollhouse isn't autobiographical. "The story of the bleakness and misery of my adolescence is a different movie," says the second-time director (he also made 1989's barely seen Fear, Anxiety and Depression).

Still, Solondz felt he knew the terrain well enough to be able to find the teenagers he'd need for the film just by sight. He and casting director Ann Goulder scoured New Jersey malls for girls...

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