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USA 2005
Directed by
Todd Solondz
100 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3 stars


Synopsis: Aviva (played by eight separate actors) is a 13 year old girl who wants nothing more than to become a mother. Upon getting herself pregnant she is forced by her mother (Ellen Barkin) to undergo an abortion but she runs away from home and ends up hitching a ride into the boonies with truckdriver Joe (Stephen Adly Guirgis). She lands up at a home run by born-again Christian Mama Sunshine (Debra Monk), who looks after a huge adopted family of disabled kids.

Todd Solondz is not known for easily consumed films and Palindromes is no exception. With a bizarre plot and an overwhelming array of actors playing the main character, the film is nevertheless interesting and challenging for those who want to escape the more linear mainstream approach.

A clue is perhaps given by the title - a palindrome being a word or phrase that reads the same forwards and backwards - like the name of the central character, Aviva. Perhaps the director is trying to show us that no matter what, we end up where we started, or whichever angle we look at things from, they are still the same issue with no absolute moral right or wrong. Certainly he floats plenty of troubling issues - teenage pregnancy, enforced abortions, paedophiliac relationships, murder, and more. Perhaps Solondz also decided to have many Avivas so that we couldn't overly attach to any one of them, and thus see things more as an everyman type of situation. Certainly he has achieved some measure of emotional remove, and yet the powerful performance of Sharon Wilkins as a grossly obese black Aviva, dressed by Mama Sunshine in a frilly frock, evokes a lot of empathy. Aviva is also played by Jennifer Jason Leigh who is surprisingly impressive playing someone about a third of her real age. Ellen Barkin gives a great performance as the mother who stops just short of being a parody of an overly hysterical, too-caring Jewish archetype.

The moral ground constantly shifts in this film and we are never sure who is good or bad, who we should feel sorry for, and even to what extent Solondz is mocking everything he portrays. The Sunshine Family House is a splendid piece of near satire, with every kid there having a frightful disability, and yet all chirping away at the dinner table with Brady-Bunch like cheeriness, and speeches resembling something out of a sit-com. Whether to laugh or cringe is a fine-line decision, and yet under it all there's a sense of humanity and pathos.

Ultimately, Palindromes is almost a bit too clever for its own good. Although Solondz says he wanted it to be a love story, the film turned into rather more of an intellectual exercise, which makes it both fascinating and alienating.




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