After his indie hits of dysfunctional suburban drama "Welcome to the
Dollhouse" and "Happiness," Todd Solondz takes a look at the
ever-so-polemic subject of today's America: abortion. In his new film
"Palindromes" (IMDb listing), Solondz narrates the story of Aviva, a 13-year-old girl
whose only aspiration in life is to have "lots and lots of babies."
Starting off with the dedication "In loving memory of Dawn Wiener,"
the protagonist of "Welcome to the Dollhouse," Solondz
introduces us to Dawn's cousin, Aviva. Over the course of the film Aviva is played by eight different actresses of different races and physical appearances (including Jennifer Jason Leigh at one point). This variation of actresses might be a method of
portraying Aviva as an every-girl, or merely a way of distancing the viewer from her and her fate.
Uninterested in sex per se, Aviva loses her virginity to a family
friend's porn-obsessed son, Judah (Robert Agri), and is later forced to
abort by her liberal mother, Joyce (Ellen Barkin). To her parents'
dismay, the operation goes awry and the doctor is forced to perform a
hysterectomy. As heartbreaking as it is, this condition is never again
mentioned in the story. Dejected and disheartened by her parents'
stand, Aviva leaves her house and runs away with a truck driver
Joe/Earl/Bob (Stephen Adly Guirgis), who abandons her after having
Wandering the wilderness of middle America, Aviva -- now,
the self-proclaimed Henrietta -- is met by a little boy, Jiminy (Tyler
Maynard), who introduces her to the Christian, pro-life "Sunshine"
family. The Sunshines are made up of the hearty Mama Sunshine (Debra
Monk), her husband Bo, and a dozen children with disabilities. Aviva discovers that Mama and Bo will stop at nothing to "give every child a right to be born." Her eavesdropping
reveals that she is being called a "child whore" and that Bo Sunshine
has gotten someone -- no other than the truck driver Earl -- to kill Dr. Fleisher (Stephen Singer) the pro-choice doctor who also operated on Aviva.
It is known that Solondz makes use of lacerating stories and anguished
antiheroes in his films. "Palindromes" is not a novelty in that sense,
however, unlike his more profound work, he fails to fully
identify the characters, their dilemmas and the film's ultimate
direction. The cynical take on both pro-choice and pro-life
advocates and the mockery of both sides of the coin allow Solondz
to stay aloof and leave the audience in a predicament, yet they do not
go beyond heaving hatred at humanity.
The score of the film and the art direction is fresh and pleasant with
contrast to the subject matter, and each of the actresses playing
Aviva are brilliantly naive in their demeanors, including Leigh, who
surprisingly gets away with playing a teenager.
Ultimately, the film's endnote that "everyone stays the
same" is contrasted with a closing song proclaiming "everybody is
different." This is an attempt at boxing in "Palindromes'" ugliness with an empathetic pitch, but the film as a whole falls short in providing a remedy.
Filmfodder Grade: C-