Cast: Ellen Barkin, Richard Masur, Matthew
Faber, Angela Pietropinto, Valerie Shusterov, Hannah Freiman,
Will Denton, Rachel Corr, Sharon Wilkins, Shayna Levine, Jennifer
Jason Leigh, Debra Monk
Once again writer/director Todd Solondz makes
a quick grab at intellectual shock value with Palindromes.
Solondz made a name for himself in 1995 with Welcome To The
Dollhouse, a quirky tale of 13-year-old geek-girl Dawn Weiner
doggedly struggling through junior high. The script reeked of pathos
but left anyone who survived their middle school years cringing
at the memories. The film subsequently went on to charm film critics
across the board, and Solondz was on his way as darling of Indie
Films. Solondz had the world on a string, but by his own admission,
he intentionally chucked opportunity (and lucrative deals) out the
window by honing in on subject matter that could make the most stoic
of viewers squirm in their seat. His two next films, Happiness
and Storytelling featured a pedophile, a phone sex addict,
and a physically disabled man having sex, to describe but a few
of the characters he penned.
All things considered, Palindromes seems to lack the
punch of his earlier work, but it is nevertheless an engaging film
that once again grabs the bull by the testicle and pulls hard. No
surprise here, Palindromes also features potent subject
matter—this time around teen pregnancy, abortion, and a ring-wing
anti-choice group. But even more striking is how Solondz chose to
cast the title role, with multiple actors who play Aviva at various
segments of the film. It’s a clever tactic that causes the
viewer never to focus on what we see on the outside but instead
to ponder what’s inside the human heart. The most notable
of Aviva performers is Jennifer Jason Leigh, but
otherwise unknown actors ably occupy the role. Similar to Dawn Weiner,
Aviva seems world-weary but is after all an inexperienced 13-year-old
who gets knocked up. Her horrified parents insist on an abortion,
and after initially refusing to go through with it, Aviva ends up
consenting to the procedure. But she quickly decides the abortion
was a mistake and, repulsed by her parents’ strong-arm tactics
and her own complicity, she decides to run away from home. What
follows can be described as a road movie/self-discovery trip that
only Solondz could devise. In short order Aviva ends up with a trucker
who seemingly has no compunction about picking up underage teens
and sleeping with them at sleazy roadside motels. But when Aviva
expresses a desire to get pregnant, the horrified trucker ducks
out and ditches her. Aviva eventually makes her way to an orphanage
of sorts, which is run by Mamma Sunshine. Here Solondz is in peak
form, and the best part of the film features Aviva’s stay
with what turns out to be a Christian home for social rejects. Aviva
quickly befriends an assortment of kids with various physical disabilities
whom, Mamma Sunshine reminds Aviva, would have otherwise been aborted.
Feeling like a misfit and an orphan of the world herself, Aviva
alleges her parents were killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11
and Mamma Sunshine immediately takes her in. Of course Aviva’s
duplicity won’t last; it’s only a matter of time before
the comforts of her temporary shelter quickly unravel. Without giving
too much away, the word “Aviva” is a palindrome, and
by the end of film Aviva indeed finds her life stuck in a continuous
A shrewder assessment here would be that Solondz is playing both
sides up the middle, teasing both liberals and conservatives alike.
But as Solondz earnestly insists, he is trying to explore and breathe
new life into a subject that for most people has little room for
tolerance or compromise. To that end, Solondz succeeds in creating
yet another film that will leave its audience heavily ponderous
Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.
Itís worth a full-price ticket.
Itís worth a matinee ticket.
Wait for video rental.
Check out the video from the library, if you must.
While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...