The plot specifics of director/provocateur Todd Solondz's latest opus Palindromes are already well documented. Aviva, a 12-year-old girl played by eight different actors of varying age, race, size and gender, is seized by an overwhelming fixation to become pregnant after attending the funeral of Dawn Wiener (the eternally wronged "Wiener dog" of Solondz's Welcome to the Dollhouse). Convinced that having "lots and lots of babies" will guarantee her the love that eluded her cousin, Aviva quickly propositions an equally awkward and uncomprehending teen acquaintance. Understandably shaken by the resultant pregnancy, her parents strong-arm the unresponsive adolescent into an abortion. Soon after, a damaged but hardly dissuaded Aviva runs away, initiating a quixotic journey in search of her confused notion of love.
From its languid, fabulist tone to its intimations of Night of the Hunter, Palindromes posits itself as a fractured fairytale of a decidedly grim nature. Though lauded by Solondz's admirers for their "honesty" and "courage," his last two features, Happiness and Storytelling, bear only the slightest resemblance to any known reality. By acknowledging its contrivances upfront, Palindromes unfolds in the more apt realm of allegory or science experiment, allowing the director to indulge his career-long obsessions: distance, identification and cruel destiny. Here, a self-involved mommie dearest and a born-again sexual predator can be viewed as counter-arguments, rabid projections from either side of the fevered abortion divide.
The payoff is Palindromes' staggering centerpiece, the looking-glass haven of Mama Sunshine (Debra Monk). The unblinkingly cheerful matriarch embodies the pro-life camp at its most extreme and most charitable, not only championing the rights of the unborn but also embracing the castoffs of unwanted pregnancies. Whether leading her ragtag brood of physically and emotionally disabled foundlings on a fieldtrip to the local dump to collect aborted fetuses, or presiding over their daily Brady Bunch-esque song-and-dance rehearsals, Mama Sunshine acts with an affection as genuine as it is doctrinaire. Though the Sunshine Singers' sugarcoated signature performance, "This Is the Way (That Jesus Made Us)," may resemble an outtake from Freaks, the director's tone is neutral, and the actors' joy is palpable. Guffaw at your own risk.
Solondz's unceremonious dispatching of Dawn (his only fully realized creation) and the film's portentous title seem, at least tacitly, to concede that the director's métier of choice is caricature. Tellingly, Palindromes' central protagonist is neither woman nor child, but rather an unformed teenager crucially stunted in the process of becoming. Ultimately, the intended effect of Solondz's bizarre casting strategy may prove little more than a prankish stunt; it's never clear whether the intended effect is universalizing, alienating or merely a cheap joke. But as Aviva's defining downcast gaze and hushed monotone pass from one actor to the next, the character is reduced to a collection of tics, a deluded apostle of an idée fixe.
At his most damnable and dispensable, the director's hard-fought "truths" are mere tautologies, his theories of predestination tricked-up mousetraps. And yet the film's greatest strength, oddly enough, is the profound sense of ambivalence it engenders. Whether intentionally or not, the director has captured the mood of our stillborn epoch, a debilitating cultural and political shout-down that promises little hope of compromise, let alone progress. Hard to like and impossible to love, Palindromes nonetheless casts a pall that lingers...like cancer.
That comment was so May 22.
Hello and welcome to 3 years ago
My brother had a pair of those pentagram earrings. They went missing sometime around 1989,…
It is this subtle dimension of understanding that marks the southwestern Indian peoples from other…
When the healthy nature of man acts as a whole, when he feels himself to…