Abortion is another big theme. The main character is forced by her parents to get an abortion early in the film, and she later becomes stridently (even maniacally) pro-life. Again, I was not seeing what drove Solondz to include this hot-button social issue in his screenplay.
The central gimmick in the production is that five or six different actresses play the girl, including two instances where adults play her. One of these adults is Jennifer Jason Leigh in a brief sequence. I didn't find that this technique revealed anything that significant, but I appreciate Solondz' willingness to experiment with form.
The biggest problem is that the film never takes any of its interests seriously. The adventures that the runaway girl has are explored in only a very circumspect and superficial way. Most of the actresses portray her as highly lethargic, and I started to feel as phlegmatic as her while watching the film. Solondz likes to look at the dark underbelly of mainstream suburban culture, but he does not explore it with much gusto or insight. He just kind of glances at it. This makes his films rather slight.
A palindrome, incidentally, is a word that is spelled the same backwards and forwards, like Aviva, the name of the main character. Nothing in the film indicates why Solondz finds this so intriguing as to name the film as he did. And if he told me, I bet I'd find it only mildly interesting.
and you know what this is? the worlds smallest violin playing "my heart cries for you"
"Palindromes" is a sequel of sorts to Solondz's watershed "Welcome to the Dollhouse," and it opens with the funeral of that film's Dawn Wiener, who apparently killed herself after being impregnated by a date rapist. Cheery stuff -- thanks for the closure. We also discover she became overweight and acne-riddled, so that's a bonus. At least one character does recur from "Dollhouse": Dawn's brother Mark (Matthew Faber), now a peculiar man accused of child molestation.
Otherwise, we're introduced to Aviva, a 13-year-old girl who has no interest in sexual pleasure but desperately yearns to be pregnant. When a naive friend inadvertently obliges her (they have sex within hours of meeting, while their parents chat downstairs), Aviva's parents (Ellen Barkin and Richard Masur, in thankless roles) demand she get an abortion. After the procedure has sad complications that Aviva doesn't even realize (so, is Solondz pro-choice or not?), she runs away from home and meets various distasteful people who do her no good. Along the way, a degree of perverse entertainment is provided by "The Sunshine Singers," a fictional group of handicapped/diseased children who sing and dance creepy, Christian-pop tunes. Just wait until the "Glee" crowd discovers this film.
[font=Century Gothic][color=#ff00ff]At the beginning of "Palindromes", it has been nine years since "Welcome to the Dollhouse" was released and time has not treated the Weiner family well.(Mark Weiner has been accused of being a pedophile.) Teenager Aviva does not want to share Dawn's fate of committing suicide. She wants to be happy and have a baby. She does get pregnant but is persuaded to have an abortion by her mother. Afterwards, Aviva runs away to Kansas while assuming the name Henrietta along the way.(By comparison, in "The Rain People"(1969), Shirley Knight played a suburban housewife who finds herself pregnant and drives from New York to Nebraska.)[/color][/font]
[font=Century Gothic][color=blue]The central conceit of "Palindromes" is that Aviva is played by eight different people through the length of the story.(But do we ever see the real Aviva by the way?) I suppose that Todd Solondz' point could be one of reinvention while I was also thinking that it could be multiple personality disorder Aviva is suffering from.(I'm not an expert in psychology, by the way.) For a while, I thought Solondz had gone all the way through misanthropy to find religion on the other side but I think it's more a sense of humanity that he has found. Overall, the movie is not bad, even if I found it all a bit of an empty exercise. But I'm just glad to see Ellen Barkin in anything these days.[/color][/font]
In the hands of Solondz it becomes a comedy so black it almost needs it's own genre. Things like using wholly different actresses to play the lead throughout simply adds more thought and depth to what he's trying to say.
It takes an incredible writer to make the aforementioned themes amusing, which renders Solondz incredible.
I can easily see how most viewers could be freaked out by the aberrant, purely nihilistic sequences scattered across this fragmented journey, and frankly, I don't blame them. His twisted humor might also come across as quite questionable, although it was undeniably effective for me.
I cannot say I have even tied up all the loose ends that remain after my second viewing. But what I do know is that I *felt* Palindromes-- and the odds of a film breaking through my shell of cinematic detachment after many years of movie-watching are now very small. For that, I congratulate Solondz and his outstanding achievement, and I recommend he never meets the therapist many might have recommended him.