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"Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from flawed filmmaking."

© 2005, Wellspring
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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 sex.

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-

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