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PALINDROMES

Wellspring Media

Official Site

Director: Todd Solondz

Producers: Mike S. Ryan, Derrick Tseng

Written by: Todd Solondz

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

Rating:


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 loop.

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 for days.

—Nancy Semin

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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...


Mike Doughty



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