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Palindromes (2004)

DVD Cover (Wellspring Media)
Genres:
Avant-Garde, Comedy Drama, Coming-Of-Age, Psychological Drama, Satire
Director:
Todd Solondz Todd Solondz
Starring:
Matthew Faber Matthew Faber
Angela Pietropinto Angela Pietropinto
Bill Buell Bill Buell
Emani Sledge Emani Sledge
Ellen Barkin Ellen Barkin

6.7 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: April 27, 2005
If you have never heard of the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, then you obviously don't keep yourself up-to-date on the hundreds of film festivals that take place in the United States each and every year. Sure, the Sidewalk is only one of these, but it is truly something special. For starters, it is held annually in Birmingham, Alabama -- not exactly a place where you would expect filmmaking to be fully appreciated. You would be wrong. Birmingham has become somewhat of a cultural haven over the past few years, thanks in large part to this festival. Not only is film fully appreciated, but also embraced, analyzed, and bragged upon. This festival is held in September, but the organization that is responsible for the festival -- Sidewalk Films -- is a year round effort. Day in and day out, organizers and executives schedule various screenings for the Birmingham area -- some recent screenings of note include the independent horror film "Hide & Creep", and the critically acclaimed documentary "Tarnation". By bringing these films to the Birmingham area, Sidewalk has become one of the most beloved artistic endeavors in all of Alabama. And, Sidewalk, is becoming quite well known amongst filmmakers and studios. During last year's festival, Sidewalk promoters met with the heads of WellSpring Entertainment, a production company responsible for films like "Tarnation" and "The Brown Bunny". What they discussed was the idea of bringing the new film from director Todd Solondz -- "Palindromes" -- into town.

When you first see Todd Solondz, one word comes to mind -- 'trekkie'. He looks like one of those guys you would expect to see huddled around Leonard Nimoy, trying desperately to get him to teach the Vulcan death grip. His mannerisms, his dress, his speech -- they all point to an extremely intelligent person who probably lives in his mother's basement. Alas, Solondz does not live with his mother. And, he is not a trekkie. He is far from those lighthearted, excitable scamps who dash around for autographs and new words in Klingon. He is dark. He is twisted. He is a mad genius of subtle cruelty. Todd Solondz has made his career on making films that are challenging, unfuriating, and sometimes too difficult to watch. He is one of those few directors who started out as an independent filmmaker, and has no desire to cast Vin Diesel or Harrison Ford anytime soon. He seems at home with this genre -- the low budget, artsy, well-acted, tragicomedies. He is the genius who brought us the sweet and confused world of "Welcome to the Dollhouse", the vicious and creepy tales of "Happiness", and the buoyant and unexpected chaos of "Storytelling". In "Palindromes", Solondz continues his tradition of challenging his viewers...sometimes a little too much.

Describing the theme of "Palindromes" is almost impossible -- it is littered with so many. Is it a film about abortion? Is it a film about change? Is it a film about love? I don't think Solondz himself knows the final answer to that question. For me, the film was about extremes. The central characyer in "Palindromes" is Aviva. This character is portrayed by six different women, ranging from a small and frail red head to a large, obese black woman. They interchange at various segments in the film, yet they all maintain the same kind of innocence and naivety. We first find Aviva getting pregnant by the son of a family friend. She is thirteen, but she wants to keep the baby. In fact, she has always wanted a baby. This comes as a shock and an impossibility to her mother (Ellen Barkin) and her father (Richard Masur) -- they want her to have an abortion. When Aviva tells her mother -- "I want to keep it. This is my baby", her mother replies -- "It's not even a baby...not yet...right now...it's more like a tumor". That is the kind of humor you should expect from this film. So, Aviva agrees and has the abortion, but it jilts her from her parents and she eventually runs away from home. After accepting two rides -- one from Mark Wiener (a character from "Welcome to the Dollhouse"), and one from a truckdriver named Joe (Stephen Adly-Guirgis) -- she winds up on a creekbed, and eventually at the Sunshine Residence.

This is where the film starts hitting those extremes. Mama Sunshine and her husband Bo are two devout Christians who have taken in close to ten orphans, most with some kind of disability. One girl is blind, one is a quadroplegic, one has down syndrome, and one seems to merely be a homosexual. Together, they all live together in a house and tour the Christian circuit as the Sunshine Singers. Aviva (who is now referring to herself as "Henrietta", which is what she would have named her unborn daughter) fits right in with the family and really enjoys their lifestyle. However, things change when Doctor Dan (Richard Riehle) and a friend come to visit. It turns out that the Sunshines are murderers -- they set up hits on abortion doctors because they feel they are doing the work of the Lord. The hitman just happens to be Joe, the gentleman Aviva hitched with and eventually made love to. The next segment of the film finds Joe (now referred to as Earl) and Aviva traveling to assassinate the abortion doctor, Dr. Fleischer, who also happens to be the doctor responsible for Aviva's abortion. This is when the film, like the title, becomes a palindrome, as we find Aviba basically going back to where she started. On her return home, she is played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. The remainder of the film involves Mark Wiener (Matthew Faber) giving some insight into the way the world works, and a final calypso of Aviva changes that cultivates into one of the most bizarre, yet appropriate endings from any film yet by Todd Solondz.

What works? Very much. There are some scenes in this film that are so masterful, they eclipse everything we have ever seen from this director. Take for instance the conversation between Ellen Barkin and her daughter about getting an abortion. Barkin's logic is that since she had an abortion, her daughter should also. When she calls the unborn child a 'tumor', we really get a sense of where this film is going. Another incredible scene occurs when Peter Paul (Alexander Brickel) takes Aviva (this time a large, obese black woman) to a dumping grounds, where trucks unload the dead fetuses from abortion clinics. Peter Paul actually picks up a plastic bag and shows her one. They eventually fall to their knees in prayer. If this scene does not stick in your head, nothing will. And, finally, Mark Wiener's speech at the end of the film -- coming from a person who has been wrongfully accused of pedophilia. It ends with one of the best exchanges I have ever heard in any motion picture:

Mark: I am not a pedophile.
Aviva: I know.
Mark: How?
Aviva: Because pedophiles love children.

Once you have watched the film, you will understand what makes that exchange so amazing. Now, for what does not work. The way in which Solondz changes actresses as Aviva is very unusual, and very original, but I think the effect is lost a little after he does it so much. I am not saying that really hurt the film, but it made it slightly confusing at the beginning. And, while he tackles both extremes -- one being liberal mother who pressures her daughter into an abortion and the other being the Christian family who kills abortion doctors -- he never really finds a middle ground. It seems that might have been what he was searching for. But, as I said before, these do not take away from the film. "Palindromes" is an amazing cinematic experience from a director who continues to push the boundaries and see what he can get away with. We need those kinds of filmmakers today.

After the film, Todd Solondz stuck around for a lengthy Q & A session, at which many questions about the film were answered. Most of his answers ended up seeming like -- 'because that was the way I invisioned it'. Is there any better response for a director? Even Solondz admitted that this was the most tragic of the comedies he had made, and that he wanted to show both extremes and let the audience judge for themselves. He wanted the character of Aviva to be this sexual aggressor and experienced woman at the tender age of thirteen, yet maintain this kind of innocence throughout the film. He succeeded. I even had the opportunity to ask one question, which was -- "If you could sum up the theme of this film in one word, what would that be?" I guess the question caught him offguard, because he responded -- "I guess the easiest answer would be the title of the film -- palindromes. Sorry, I couldn't give you a more educated response." Actually, that was the perfect response. When you look at the way the film arches together, and the subtle little hints to the title in the film, that was the perfect response.

One of the most intelligent films of the year, "Palindromes" dares to swim into untested waters. And, with the trial of abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph not far away, it is being released at a very volatile time in our country. True, this could hinder the film from finding mainstream success, but Solondz himself said mainstream success did not concern him in the slightest. This script is a miraculous work of dark humor, strange tragedies, and wonderful little word plays -- Aviva (a palindrome) is, for the length of the film, desperate to become a Mom (a palindrome) -- just little things like that. I want to close this with a stroke of genius on the behalf of Solondz, which he explained. At the beginning of the film, we see a dedication -- In Loving Memory of Dawn Wiener. We then proceed to her funeral. For all you Solondz fans, Dawn Wiener was the lead character from "Welcome to the Dollhouse". Solondz said he had tried to persuade Heather Matazarro (the actress who played Dawn) to appear in both "Storytelling" and "Palindromes", but she said she never wanted to play that character again. This was his way of coming to terms with that. It takes a man of a director to kill off one of his most beloved characters, just because she wants to stay pretty. "Palindromes" is one of the most challenging films you are likely to see this year, but it is certainly deserving and wholly enjoyable. 7.5/10.
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Kari Byron's Sex Cyborg #1: Kari Byron's Sex Cyborg - added 10/25/2006, 03:01 AM
Wow! I love Todd Solondz's mind and all it produces.
The scene involving "Huckleberry" Aviva is one of my absolute favorites- it's so poignant and beautiful.

8.4/10
grain of sand #2: grain of sand - added 08/06/2007, 12:04 AM
I love this film, and almost everything solondz has done..
spot on review.
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