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(2004)

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9/10
An amazing film with a few small flaws, but incredible nonetheless.
jeffreygoad8 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I adore what I've seen of Todd Solondz's films (I adore Welcome To The Dollhouse and Happiness but didn't see Storytelling), so of course I walked into the theater with high expectations.

Ellen Barkin (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) did a stellar job as the pro-abortion supportive mother of the 13-year-old main character who's only desire is to have babies, lots and lots of babies! The whole film is centered around a gimmick that didn't work for me while I watched it. A different girl or woman would play the main girl, Aviva, in each chapter. 'Mama Sunshine' Aviva, played by Sharon Wilkins (I, Robot), is a large black woman who's backside is featured on the poster. She did a fine job, but the parts of the film that have the strongest emotional impact are the scenes where the actress playing Aviva actually resembles the character's age. It's much harder, emotionally, to watch a 13-year-old girl go through the events depicted in the film. That was also my problem with Jennifer Jason Leigh (eXistenZ)'s scene, but hers was a short one.

After the movie was over I kept asking myself "Why? Why did he have seven actresses playing Aviva?" I started thinking maybe it was saying that Aviva is all girls/women, but if that was the case I thought it was a pretty weak concept, especially at the expense of the film's impact.

Then it occurred to me that what (I think) he was doing was showing us Aviva's self-image. When this occurred to me it got me really thinking and it made total sense! In the first scene she is a little black girl because she feels like someone who clearly doesn't belong to her family, a complete outcast, a little black girl in a white family. When Aviva first has sex she is a little overweight with slouched shoulders, pretty yet plain and awkward. When she runs away she is tiny, little waif of a thing, a little ant in a big scary world. Then when she's at Mama Sunshine's she is an obese black adult woman because she has seen the world, feels much older, feels completely removed from her family and feels huge and awkward in a body she no longer knows at all - and she feels like a complete fraud, that is why she is played by someone who looks NOTHING like she normally does. At the return party she is played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, an actress in her 40s, because she feels so old, like she's seen so much of the world.

I loved it! It made sense. It had a powerful message. I could relate completely. We never see ourselves except in photos and reflections so our self image is completely emotional. Todd Solondz was trying to capture that feeling and did it magnificently. It was subtle, beautiful and heartbreaking.

A few other things I loved was Alexander Brickel (Satan's Little Helper), the little boy who played Peter Paul. He was so incredible! What a hilarious and charming child actor. Good child actors are SO rare. Also, the opening sequence with Dawn Wiener's funeral and then Ellen Barkin explaining to the young Aviva why Dawn's parents never loved her... great comedy! The last sequence where we had an epileptic fit of all the Avivas through the course of the film didn't work so well, but it does go with my above theory.

Overall, it was an amazing film with a few small flaws, definitely worth viewing but not as powerful as Welcome To The Dollhouse or Happiness, but incredible nonetheless.
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8/10
Remember it's only a film . . .
Chris_Docker11 May 2005
Palindromes is a film that is set to shock. The themes – abortion, child abuse, Christian fundamentalism, teenage pregnancy – are red rags generally too much at for TV soap operas, or comedy shows like The Office - yet apart from it's x-rated material, Palindromes has a certain amount in common with both of these genres.

In terms of film-making, it is fairly innovative in technique, although audiences who have tired of director Todd Solondz's previous offerings (which include 'Storytelling' and 'Happiness') may say it is more of the same thing. A central new twist with Palindromes is that the central character – a twelve/thirteen year old girl – is played quite convincingly by a wide array of characters that are physically very different (black/white, obese/skinny, young/old, and in one incarnation even a young boy). They all have an eerie likeness and it is a credit to Solondz that, even without being warned of the device, audiences have barely a second's hesitation in linking up that it is the same person.

Aviva (her name is palindromic - spelt the same forwards or backwards) is 12 or 13 years old but has a very strong desire to have a baby. This is presented as quite a core issue with her, rather than a passing whim. Her mother reels between hysterical intolerance and forceful supportiveness, trying to be a 'good mother', feeling inadequate at the job, and making strident attempts to steer her wayward daughter. When Aviva first expresses her wish it's along the lines of wanting lots of babies so she will always have someone to love (she is a sweet and lovable, slightly chubby, black child and the wish is not taken to mean immediate action at this point). When she makes fumbling attempts to realise her aim with a boy about the same age she knows, we start feeling worried, even though the scene is trivialised and offered as humour. Solondz repeatedly tempts us to laugh at or with the characters during tragically gruesome scenes and then feel guilty about it. Aviva doesn't give up, even when we know her quest has become impossible.

One of the ways we test a proposition is to say, 'what are the exceptions'? Does it apply under all conditions? An Internet psychology test used rapid responses to demonstrate that, even people who think they are not racially prejudiced, still instinctively tend to view black people differently. We have innate prejudices about colour, gender, age, size/obesity that are not easy to overcome. Palindromes, by taking one character and showing her in many physical forms, makes us ask ourselves if we think differently about her situation when we give her a different physical form. If we feel sorry for her in one incarnation but less so (or more so) when her physical appearance is changed, what does that say about us? Similarly, if we make a judgement about a person, or about what is 'best' for a person, would it be the same if we could see into the future or different futures? The film's apparent premise (stated within the movie) is that we are always the same, we can't change, even though we grow older, may have a boob job or sex change, we are fated to be the same person – we always come back to being who we are (a bit like a palindrome, that is spelt the same whether read left to right or right to left). 'How many times can I be born again?' screams a lapsed 'born-again' paedophile later in the movie. Is a person really fated to not be able to change? What might be truer would be to say that it takes a lot for people to change, to overcome natural hubris and unchanging habit – if we are each individually a product of our genes, our environment and our inner will (or 'soul' for religious people), then real change has to be not just more than skin deep but deep enough to overcome external influences and predispositions. (When watching Palindromes, look out for the Wizard of Oz references!) But ultimately Solondz neither philosophises nor moralises – he simply observes. That he observes such controversial, dilemma-ridden and offensive subject matter may provoke constructive thought in some (especially if you think he does it in a caring way) but derision in others. His pessimism is tempered by the fact that he gets away with it – quips Solandz - "It says something good about mankind and people's discretion that when I walk in the street to pick up my groceries nobody has assaulted me."
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8/10
Solondz Has Certainly Not Taken the Easy Option
Krustallos28 October 2004
Seen at the London Film Festival, 27/10/04.

I've seen a lot of strange films in my life, but this has to be right up there. Compared to this, "Happiness" was a crowd-pleasing knockabout comedy. I have to say that I found "Palindromes" hard going, even boring at times, although there was definitely a slow burn quality and by the end I was pretty much drawn in.

The film plays rather like a cross between Luis Bunuel and a live action "South Park". The multiple-actress technique pioneered in "That Obscure Object of Desire", deadpan style and flat picture quality on the one hand, taboo-breaking humour, song 'n' dance and perverse exploration of moral issues on the other.

I wonder what a conservative audience would make of this film. My guess is that it's aimed squarely at a liberal audience, but it absolutely refuses to pander to liberal prejudice, instead laying into the "pro-choice" position in a manner which can only be described as destruction testing. I get the feeling that Solondz is challenging his own opinions on the issue, as much as ours. Pro-lifers might see the storyline as vindicating their beliefs, but I dare say would be so horrified by other aspects of the film that they wouldn't make it to the end.

This is probably Solondz' bleakest movie to date, despite moments of (very dark) humour. Scientific rationalism is weighed against religious fundamentalism and both are found utterly wanting.

Incidentally there is no rape in this film, despite comments elsewhere, although there are certainly very disturbing scenes.

A brave movie, overall. I'm sure Solondz could take the David Lynch/John Waters route towards the (relative) mainstream with considerable success, but "Palindromes" sees him driving determinedly in the opposite direction, in every respect.
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8/10
A Fascinating Visual Experiment on Hot Button Issues
noralee8 June 2005
"Palindromes" is a fascinating visual thought experiment.

Very parallel to Alexander Payne's "Citizen Ruth" in covering some of the same territory about abortion, writer/director Todd Solontz mostly eschews that film's satire and easy jabs for a protean look at an issue that has a more complicated emotional landscape than advocates on either side usually concede.

He does this by literally taking us inside the mind of a young malleable adolescent who intentionally gets pregnant and is surprised at the reactions of those around her. Sometimes we see her as she sees herself, as if we are reading her diary, with her body-hating hopes for a change in hair, skin, age or family, and sometimes we see her as others see her.

Every one wants to control "Aviva" and their hypocritical selfishness is laid bare, regardless of their various good intentions. Her mother sees her still as a baby (a welcome back to the screen for Ellen Barkin who manages to add maternal warmth to hostile dialog) to the discomfiting sexualization (Britney-ization?) of just barely teens that is just barely a step above pedophilia, to how she is seen by pro-life advocates (whose Sunshine Band for "special children" seems almost as exploitative as JonBenet Ramsey's performances) and on in a picaresque dream scape that crosses a nightmare that is a bit extreme, especially for fans of "Welcome to the Dollhouse."

Solontz pulls this off by having every image of "Aviva" (according to the director's production notes) "portrayed by two women, four girls (13-14 years old), one 12-year-old boy, and one 6-year old girl" of widely variant size, shape, color and just about every other possible outward characteristic, even though one haranguer points out that no one can ever really change.

Solontz in a hand-out at the theater defined his use of the title as meaning "a condition of stasis and/or immutability; that part of one's personality or character that resists change, stays the same," but I'm not sure that successfully comes through in this provocative film, especially with some of the acerbic dialog and disturbing actions.

Nathan Larson's music is appropriately eerie, with spooky vocalizations by Nina Persson.

Releasing the film without a rating will probably keep it from being seen by young teens which is too bad as it is a frank and fresh look at the pressures on girls from friends, family and society.
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10/10
These people are real
shootmewithyourblood13 March 2005
I just saw this at SXSW in Austin, Tx on March 14, 2005 and all 1200 people in the Paramount theater had to laugh because if they didn't they would have to cry. Before the movie, Todd Solondz himself wished that we would enjoy this "fable/fairy tale". Though this movie has fable like qualities, I wouldn't suggest showing this movie to a kid unless you were interested in destroying the kid's morale. Every character in the movie is malignantly realistic and I lost count of how many times I put my hand over my mouth and shook my head trying to decide to laugh or scream. "Palindromes" has a totally unique way of looking at abortion, pedophilia, individualism, family and parenthood through the points of view of these well developed characters. Though we may not have wanted to experience these point of view, the character's acceptance of their own realities makes the viewer take another look at their reality.

I think this is a great movie for people with daughters. If this movie doesn't make you want to be a better parent then I guess there is no hope after all. Well, I'm finally closing in on 200 words, I could have definitely stopped after saying "people had to laugh because if they didn't they would have to cry."
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7/10
Worth seeing, even if Solondz scares you.
weevil-217 March 2005
Obviously the film isn't for everyone and anyone who has seen Happiness or Welcome to the Dollhouse knows what they're in for. The film sat well with me though.. far from the sadistic gut-kickings of Happiness, the characters here are broken softly and with great sadness. The subject matter of the film will turn many people off (violently), but the actual execution I found inoffensive, and a worthwhile trip. I'm convinced that Mark Weiner's reappearance at the end of the film is a stand-in for Solondz himself, as he dryly confirms that he is not a pervert, and is in return told by the protagonist that he is too passionless to be a pervert. There's more soul searching in this film than misanthropy and it's a positive turn for the director.
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7/10
weird world of Todd.
come2whereimfrom2 October 2005
Todd Solondz returns with an excellent piece of film making in this very twisted fairy tale. It tells the story of Aviva who desperately wants to have a baby despite being very young. She craves loving attention and when not getting it at home believes that having a baby will bring her a strong enough bond to fill her emotional void. On falling pregnant after her first sexual encounter her parents insist she has an abortion, this she does but not happy she runs away from home. And so her story begins as she travels from one bizarre encounter to another, some funny and some sad. The pace of the film is pitched just right and it takes you along with the trial and tribulations of Aviva despite her being played by several different characters. This has been done to play with the audience's preconceptions of how you identify with a character depending on how they look and it works to startling effect. In between Aviva leaving home and the emotional reunion with her parents we are subjected to the seedy underbelly of Middle America within an array of characters the league of gentlemen boys would struggle to make up. Nothing seems taboo to Solondz and this makes for a refreshingly different movie experience if you can get your head around it. Shocking in places but ultimately rewarding to anyone prepared to give palindromes a chance.
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7/10
You were so cute then... too bad you had to grow up
TBJCSKCNRRQTreviews6 November 2010
13-year-old Aviva is awkward and sensitive. And she wants a baby. She meets(and yes, has intercourse with) a couple of potential fathers, runs away from home and is at one point with a family of fanatical Christians where most of the members are children who were abandoned because of a disability they have... and this portion is the creepiest and most disturbing thing I've ever seen(and you feel trapped there). Solondz divides audiences yet again. This has been called provocative, smart, artsy, disgusting and honest, and I think it is all of the above. No, the man is not "well", mentally. The line between genius and madman is thin, if there is one. While this doesn't mean that we should accept everything that is offensive, I do think that this one offers enough insight and poses important questions. Sometimes you have to break the rules, go against taboo, to point something out. If there isn't a message, or it is a purely destructive one, we can discard the work as "wrong". This confronts abortion from several angles, with the usual black, frank approach and existentialism of the writer/director. The story's structure is a palindrome, and several of the names are... because we never really change. We are what we are, and the fundamentals of that remain the same. There are a handful of different people portraying our lead, including a boy(not unlike I'm Not There). This is to show her emotional state at the time, and all we ever see of others are projections, anyway, we never truly see the entire person. Every single role in this is perfectly cast, and the acting is utterly amazing by them all. This arguably makes the point that women want kids, and men want sex. Every character is well-developed, credible and a real human being. We may like them or hate them; we can't help but respond to them. This has few cuts and many long takes. The camera moves if it should, and otherwise not. This is funny at times. The theme song is haunting. There is a lot of pedophilia, a little strong language and brief, bloodless violence in this. The DVD comes with a trailer for this. I recommend this to anyone with a sufficiently open mind to appreciate this. Not for everyone, and not meant to be. 7/10
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10/10
Something's wrong with the Victor family
jotix10028 April 2005
Todd Solondz, is a man who dares to go where other auteurs would not go. As a result, his films are tremendous achievements because of what he decides to explore on screen. Obviously, his films are not directed for the masses. His films are appreciated by a small group that know what Mr. Solondz is capable of tackling. This is a man who appears not to know shy away from getting involved in what is wrong with the suburban society he seems to know so well.

If you haven't seen the film, please stop reading here.

In this new film, Todd Solondz takes us back to the Wieners, the family that he introduced to us in his debut, as we watch the closed casket of Dawn. At the same time we are shown another family that are related to the Wieners, the Victors. The director loves to examines the family dynamics, as it's the case with the study he does on the Victors.

Aviva Victor is a girl who wants to have a child. Alas, it's not going to happen any time soon. We see, in painful detail what this young woman does to her suburban parents. Joyce, the mother, is shocked and horrified. There's only one thing in her mind to do: Aviva is made to have an abortion, to which she doesn't agree, but one that is forced on herself.

Joyce, the materialistic mother, in a scene that is about the best thing in the film, tries to reason with Aviva and offers her own story about how she had also aborted a baby, who would have been named Henry, after her father. Her motives are purely based on whatever sacrifices the arrival of the unwanted baby would have meant in the Victors life.

Aviva, after the botched abortion by Dr. Fleisher, takes to the road in a way to show her rebellion against what has been forced on her. Aviva, for her young age, is extremely wise as to what to do and what to expect from the different people she meets along the way.

The device by Mr. Solondz to have eight different actors play Aviva, pays up in a way one wouldn't even have thought it would. Each one of the actor/actress leaves his/her own imprint in playing this disturbed girl. The most appealing of the different people playing the girl is the "Sunshine Aviva", the Afro-American that makes quite an impression in her take on this sad lost soul.

When Aviva is found by the side of a brook, the kind Peter Paul brings her to the Sunshines' home. These amazingly couple are too good to be true, as one discovers later on. The motherly Mama Sunshine is anyone's idea of how a mother should be. Not having family of her own, they have taken about a dozen children, each with a physical problem, but who appear to lead a happy existence with the Sunshines.

Peter Paul takes Aviva one day to the dump site where some of the discards from the abortion hospital take the fetuses. Aviva is horrified, she identifies to the fact that wanting to have a child of her own, this reality hitting her in the face is too much for her. Aviva then takes to the road again with the man she has had a sexual encounter before. This proves fatal as he is a man on a mission, an executioner that acts for the hate group that the Sunshines belong to.

The film is multi layered with an incredible texture between the adventures Aviva experiences. "Palindromes" is a hypnotic film. Any viewer falling under its spell is in for a magic ride guided by Todd Solondz.

What the director has gotten from this talented cast is one of the best ensemble playing from any indie film this year. Ellen Barkin has one of the best moments of her career as Joyce Victor in the sequence where she tries to explain to Aviva the reason for aborting. Debra Monk, a fine, but underused actress, is magnificent as Mama Sunshine. Ms. Monk's appearance shows us a woman that on the surface is something, when in reality she is a monster. Sharon Wilkins, the "Sunshine Aviva" gives a compassionate reading that reveals so much of the young girl she represents. Alexander Brickel's Peter Paul, the boy that befriends Aviva, plays the sweet boy perfectly. Also in the cast, the wonderful Stephen Adly Guirgis, who plays the right wing enforcer fanatic.

Mr. Solondz is to be congratulated in getting a tamed performance from the otherwise intense Jennifer Jason Leigh, who plays one of the most quiet Avivas.

This film proves that Mr. Solondz loves to takes chances in telling stories that are dark and not commercial, but he makes them resonate with his viewers because he doesn't compromise with what he perceives as the truth around him. This is a man who is not a wishy washy when it comes to taking chances in being an original.
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7/10
'Can you get pregnant when it goes in there?'
CuriosityKilledShawn26 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
While not exactly a 'part 2' kind of sequel to Welcome to the Dollhouse, Palindromes is more than a film just set in the same universe. Several characters from Dollhouse are featured and many references are made to events in said previous movie. It's best to be familiar with Dollhouse first before watching Palindromes.

Dawn Weiner, our lovely protagonist from Dollhouse, is dead. She committed suicide after getting pregnant from a date-rape. And even in death people cannot hold back on talking trash about her. Her 12-year-old cousin Aviva (she IS 12, a lot of people are mentioning various ages, she only turns 13 at the end) is so affecting by her tragic life that she vows to never turn out like her.

Her mum (Ellen Barkin who appears to have had some dodgy face-lift) promises that will never happen as she loves Aviva more than Dawn's family loved her. Which could not be further than the truth. As soon as she becomes pregnant to some horny boy Aviva's mum shows her true colors. She is selfish, ignorant and downright cruel. Her dad also. They may well be angry but that's no excuse for the pressure they put her under.

Aviva is forced into having an abortion. But it goes wrong and she ends up having an emergency hysterectomy. Thinking only of the effect it has upon herself, Aviva's mum keeps this part secret from her. Obviously devastated at the lost of her unborn child, Aviva takes off on a journey to find a new lover and make a new baby, unaware that she never will.

Upon this journey Aviva is played by many different actresses, all of whom portray her with the same facial expressions and mannerisms. She meets a variety of characters, including her cousin Mark (Dawn's older brother), a trucker who isn't a pedo but loves her anyway and family of disabled Jesus loving Christians who secretly fund abortionist assassinations.

It's bizarre and sometimes outrageous journey full of some typical Todd Solondz moments; scenes where the far-fetched becomes very believable because human-nature often stretches beyond normality when no one is looking. It was sad to see that Mark Weiner's life ruined in the way that it is. But he came through as a more mature and sympathetic character than the bully older brother he was before. And he did have some good scenes.

Now, about the whole pre-teen sexuality thing. I do not have a problem with this but I know a lot of people do. I don't find anything offensive about it but this is the third time Solondz has tackled the subject. Is he into it? Is he against it? Does he find it humorous? Or does he just use it as an easy way to rile us up and make us react? While it's integral to the story, it's not anything a fan of Solondz hasn't seen before.

Palindromes more than about a girl who's name is the spelled forwards as backwards. It's a film about how life goes around in circles and no one really ever changes or goes anywhere. It sounds like a pointless journey when I put it that way. But it's worth it.
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9/10
Solondz Continues to Push the Envelope
MrsHunterSThompson7 December 2006
"Palindromes" is a magnificent movie unlike anything else I have seen. Not only is the main song haunting, but the characters will stick in the mind for days. Aviva, the main character portrayed by 8 different actors is a young disturbed child with one desire, to have a child so she will always be loved by someone. Aviva goes through many strange and sometimes disturbing escapades. This film explores the tender subjects of abortion, statutory rape, religious extremists, pedophilia, and change. Essentially, Aviva and the other characters end up having names that are palindromes ie. Bob etc. This is symbolic of the fact that no one ever changes despite obstacles and bizarre occurrences that happen in their lives.

Many times Solondz's films are misunderstood. They are often deemed sacrilegious, vulgar, or plainly disgusting. If you are one of these people shame on you, Solondz simply explores and exploits major issues that happen everyday. No other director besides Larry Clark is bold enough to do this. Personally, I think the dialogue in Solondz's films is brilliant and witty. He chooses tasteful casts that depict their characters perfectly. The audience is able to easily relate to the characters or simply hate them. I praise Solondz for his work.
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9/10
2005's Boldest Film
CSM126-122 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
"I'm going to be a mommy," says Aviva, the multi-faced protagonist of controversial director Todd Solondz's "Palindromes". After her parents force her to have an abortion at the age of thirteen, Aviva runs away and hopes to get pregnant again. What she doesn't know is that the doctor at the clinic slipped-up, and left her sterile.

Solondz has never been one to go mainstream, or make "fun" movies. His works, such as "Welcome to the Dollhouse" (which "Palindromes" is a kinda/sorta sequel to) are uncomfortable to watch. Why? Because they are more truthful and honest then we expect a movie to be. Solondz shows real-life issues in lower and middle class American families who face the harshest realities, and he pulls no punches. This is not your typical multi-plex fare. Not at all.

"Palindromes" is about Aviva, cousin of Dawn Wiener from "Welcome to the Dollhouse". Dawn has just recently killed herself (no surprise there, really), and a five-year old, and black, Aviva vows to never be like her cousin. Eight years later, Aviva (now white, teenaged, and overweight) has her first sexual encounter and gets pregnant. Her mother (Ellen Barkin, in a truly inspired performance) tells Aviva (still white, but now skinny and with red hair) that she will have to have an abortion. Aviva is devastated, as she longs to be a mother. Following the botched procedure, Aviva runs away and embarks on a transformative journey.

You've likely guessed that the transformation here is physical, not spiritual. Aviva changes appearance from chapter to chapter, but the person she is inside never changes. Whether she's a skinny white girl or a massive black woman Aviva is still a lost little girl, adrift in a world she can't understand. All she has to go by are her warped perceptions of love, which lead her to the arms of a pervert who likes to go out and kill abortion doctors in his free time.

"Palindromes" leans heavily to the side of pro-life. Solondz vilifies abortion clinics and pro-choicers to an almost extreme degree. Here are examples:

Aviva's mother refers to an unborn child as being "like a tumor". Aviva is shown a dump where aborted fetus' are haphazardly thrown away. The clinic botches the abortion. Aviva's pro-choice family includes an accused child molester.

I was rather shocked at first, being a pro-choice person myself, but I can not deny that Solondz has created a powerful indictment of the practice of abortion. I'll never give up the pro-choice platform (everyone has a right to choose, after all), but now I'm not so sure I'd ever personally want an abortion for any of my loved ones.

Solondz also shows that unwanted children don't necessarily have to be aborted, and that they can have good lives if adopted or sent to foster homes. When Aviva meets Mama Sunshine, "mother to all of God's children", we are shown a household where disabled and sick children can lead happy lives. Mama Sunshine has taken in blind children, crippled children, limbless children, and retarded children, and she gives them all good lives. It makes you wonder if Aviva couldn't have given her child a life like this rather than having to be forced to kill it.

At the end of it all "Palindromes" ends appropriately. IE: as it began. There is a wonderful scene in which Aviva's (supposedly) perverted relative makes a speech about how no one changes, how life is essentially a palindrome. It makes us wonder if the effort Aviva went through to change things was worth it, when we know where she'll always end up. Or do we? Does life have to be a palindrome? Or is there a way to change that, once and for all?

This is the year's boldest, most provocative film. It is fearless in it's search for answers, and it requires the viewer to be fearless if they are to get anything out of watching. Please see this film. And don't be afraid to question yourself afterwards.

"Palindromes" is not a film with answers to the questions, it's a film with questions about our answers.
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7/10
Here we go again...
MichaelMargetis1 October 2005
Whenever a film by Todd Solondz comes out I'm excited. The reason I'm excited and the reason most people are excited is because you know it's going to break all kinds of taboos and be disgusting and tasteless and blah, blah, blah. When you sit down and view a Solondz feature you know it will be one sick friggin' movie, and 'Palindromes' definitely delivers on that account. It's not so much 'Palindromes' breaks so many taboos is that it is perhaps his most unsettling film. Yes, even more unsettling then his most acclaimed work 'Happiness' which followed a perverted prank caller, a serial-killing fatty, a struggling novelist who wished she was raped as a little girl and a psychiatrist who is secretly a homosexual pedophile. 'Palindromes' is unsettling because it deals with such a dark and very realistic element of life -- childhood pregnancy. We follow a little girl (played by different actresses in every section including a morbidly obese black woman and JENNIFER JASON LEIGH!) who has an abortion because her mother (Ellen Barkin) makes her. The little girl is confused and angry so she runs away and finds what could be solace with a simple country Christian household that adopts disabled children who form a Christian pop band while the man of the house conspires to murder abortion doctors. It's one sick film, but it's also poignant too.

All of the actresses who play the little girl do a very fine job. Ellen Barkin is solid in her really nothing role, while Mathew Faber (who reprises his role from 'Welcome to the Dollhouse') is hysterical and consistently a pleasure to watch especially during his 'nobody ever changes in life' speech at the end which seems to be one of the main points Solondz's 'Palindromes' tries to get across. I feel Solondz tries to open our eyes by saying not everything is what it seems and life isn't a beautiful perfect thing. He expresses this by showing us a seemingly wholesome family with good "christian" values who commit such disgusting and heinous acts such as murder. 'Palindromes' is a very dark movie on one hand, but a very hysterical one on the other. The scene where the disabled kids are singing in their Christian pop band caused me to burst into uncontrollable laughter, while the kids' quirky and hilariously satirical dialogue at the breakfast tablee scene reminds of a Brady Bunch Episode from hell.

'Palindromes' is a good film, but it is probably Solondz's weakest effort. I was semi-satisfied with it, but I was really expected a hell of a lot more. The acting was good (but not as good as his other films), the writing was good (but not nearly as good as 'Happiness' or 'Welcome to the Dollhouse) but the directing seemed to be more improved then any of his other films (except that opening scene shot on a camcorder -- I think that was supposed to be very low-budget). Die-hard indie, Solondz or just off-beat film fans will enjoy this, but someone expecting a mainstream feature will detest it. View 'Palindromes' at your own risk. If you find it repulsive and devastating to watch, don't say I didn't warn you. Grade: B

my ratings guide - A+ (absolutley flawless); A (a masterpiece, near-perfect); A- (excellent); B+ (great); B (very good); B- (good); C+ (a mixed bag); C (average); C- (disappointing); D+ (bad); D (very bad); D- (absolutley horrendous); F (not one redeeming quality in this hunk of Hollywood feces).
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10/10
This movie is meant to provoke thought, not to attack
cineass25 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
It saddens me to see Solondz so reviled in most of the mainstream reviews of this piece. It's as though the whole film were just a giant title card of the words "I HATE (critic's name) PERSONALLY." Well, that is not the way to take this film.

I enjoyed it because of its fable-like tone (I found the combination of score, "odd" acting styles, and actor changes to eventually create a sense of "magic" for me), but also because of the questions it raised in my mind.

1. Can there ever be a love that is not selfish? Aviva's mom's love clearly was very selfish ("Now I'll never have grandchildren!") and even the film's most loving character, Mama Sunshine -- we are shown exactly how she projects her own life history onto the children she rescues -- she's really healing herself when she heals them. Aviva's line "Pedophiles love children" seems to sum this up perfectly. Uh -- yes they do -- but---

2. How much value can be placed on human life? He roundly indicts those who put money above human life -- in Aviva's mom's speech about aborting her fetus so they could afford "In Sync tickets" and "hand-packed Ben and Jerry's pints" but it seems that the religion-based view of human life -- "every sperm is sacred" can both lead to tragedy such as the murder of the abortion doc, and is hard to partake of when you know too much about science like Mark.

All in all, if you can keep reminding yourself "it's just a movie" it can lead to a lot of thought as well as the guilty pleasure of laughing at the very messed-up characters -- but each one messed-up in a specific way so as to show a particular oddity or inconsistency of people in real life.
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10/10
Aviva in Wonderland
nycritic16 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
She's a little black girl waking up in the middle of the night from a nightmare involving a dearly departed friend. She's a succession of young girls, an androgynous boy, a giant black earth mother with the innocent physicality of a child, and a very introverted forty-year old woman who couldn't look a day over 12.

All these are this one-of-a-kind character called Aviva, the girl who lives in the perfect family setting in the Garden State, the girl who wants to be a mother above all things. As a matter of fact this need to be a mother is what drives the plot of PALINDROMES. What could possess her with this preternatural knowledge I can't say, but Todd Solondz, a director whose work I'm only now beginning to discover, creates a complex experiment that is as non-commercial as they come but that is an allegory of human nature.

Aviva gets pregnant by having sex with a neighbor's young son. This happens with the passion of a monopoly game. Her parents are horrified but try to maintain composure. Both without question are up for Aviva getting an abortion. Joyce (Ellen Barkin, still proving the actress she's always been) is particularly poignant as the loving but shallow mother who condescends to her daughter's quiet determination to be a mother and keeps Steve (Richard Masur) under control even when he threatens to lose it.

Aviva gives into her parent's suburban logic. A trip to an abortion clinic becomes a nightmare as protesters suddenly shriek at Aviva not to do it. And of course, something goes wrong with Aviva's abortion: her uterus gets irrevocably damaged. This is presented to us through blurry images. It's as if we as Aviva were watching her parents' conversation with Dr. Fleisher and his prognosis and only a snippet of words would be filtering through, none of them giving any hope that Aviva will be a mother in the future. Her reaction, we never see; we only see her later hitching a ride away from home into an uncertain world.

One her way to anyplace she comes across Joe (Stephen Adly Guirgis), a trucker. Events separate them and she arrives by river to Mama Sunshine's home, a family who has taken in orphans with disabilities and who reek sitcom-ready happiness hiding something even uglier underneath. My idea was that Solondz wanted to present yet another side of the same issue -- another palindrome -- in which compared to her abortion-happy parents offering overprotected security, these people are cultish anti-abortionists who are as creepy as vines on a wall. Both versions of security are warped, people who have embraced an ideal and lost their humanity along the way. In Sharon Wilkins, the Aviva of this segment, I found myself reacting to the most. Her physique is so pliable to represent not only a child, but an ethnic one, and the way she comes across is even more like a little girl with the empiric knowledge of an Earth mother horrified at the sight of dead babies, having to lie to hide her truth.

There are no solutions to PALINDROMES. The usage of eight different actors, one of them Jennifer Jason Leigh who also conveys her own dead-on impression of an alienated girl (although granted, this type of acting is normal for her) gave me the idea that Solondz wanted for us to forget the actress playing Aviva and focus on the little girl's personality growth -- which is not much but enough for the story's time frame -- specifically in her later interactions with Joe/Bob/Earl, the trucker and killer for hire who abandoned her early on. If only Solondz didn't feel the need to have Aviva also wind up where she started and re-introduce the nasty-looking actor who plays pedophile Mark Wiener, PALINDROMES would feel better, but with films like these, nothing is perfect -- in their honesty they make us think.
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7/10
A Girl With Many Faces In The Search For Love and Understanding
Galina_movie_fan28 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The 13 years old Aviva Victor is a heroine of Todd Solondz's new film "Palindromes". She is the only daughter of the loving parents but she is not happy and the only thing she passionately wants – to become a mother and to have a lot of babies. She gets pregnant at 13 and forced by her mother goes through an abortion. As the result of the procedure gone wrong, she will never be pregnant again. Aviva runs from home and enters the world populated by very strange, often dangerous but always multi-layered characters. What makes this movie rather unusual, Solondz chose eight different actresses (in age, color, and shape) to play Aviva. The writer/director explains the experiment by his desire to make as many women and girls as possible identify themselves with the girl in the search for love and understanding. Aviva is not a real girl, really, she is an archetype of a woman who longs for love and tenderness and who is absolutely innocent in her search for them, often in the wrong places with the wrong strangers.

As for the title, — a palindrome is a word, phrase, verse, or sentence that reads the same backward or forward. In the way, it is a metaphor for life. The word dies just after been born when it reads letter by letter backwards. It is self destruction. The same applies to Aviva (her name is a palindrome, BTW) – she and the world around her are static, she is in the vicious circle and she can't break it. You can not move on if you just walk in circles. Even if it seems that the world around Aviva and she always change (that's why she's got so many different faces), she is still the same – no matter if she is a little girl, an awkward teenager, a heavy black woman or frightfully youthful Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Even though, I respect Solontz's decision to tell the parable rather than the story of one particular girl, I think that choosing eight actresses was one of the "Palindromes'" weaknesses. The idea was interesting but not all of the performers were up to the task and the constant switching of the actresses was rather distracting.

I admire Solondz for his fierce uncompromising bravery – he knows that his films will never be the crowd pleasers - but he keeps making them.. I am not sure if I like "Palindromes" but I keep thinking about it, and I know I would - for long time.
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8/10
Challenging and beautiful, Solondz does it again.
BackFire8315 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Todd Solondz has become quite infamous for his unapologetic and unique films that involve controversial topics. In Happiness, he dared to give humanity and compassion to a pedophile, and the kicker is, he succeeded. You actually cared for him. With Storytelling he took a more laid back approach, and didn't really delve to deeply into any unique or controversial topics, which was somewhat disappointing. Now, with Palindromes, he has made his most interesting, thought provoking and, arguably, his bravest film yet, tackling the controversial topic of abortion in ways few would dare.

The film is about Aviva, a 13 year old girl who wants to have a baby. She ends up having sex with a young man who's a friend of the family, and gets pregnant. Her parents find out about this and are determined to force her to have an abortion. The mother has a talk with her, telling her the risks and disadvantages a young girl giving birth could face: "What if it's deformed, or mentally retarded? It's more likely that a young mother will give birth to a baby with birth defects" She says. In a stunning turn of events, the mother confesses that she herself had an abortion, and her reasons for doing so are truly pathetic : "If I had had this baby, you wouldn't have been able to have the luxuries that me and your father provide you, like the quarts of ice cream, the gap clothing, or the Nsync tickets". The mom talks Aviva into having an abortion.

One of the most touching and heartbreaking scenes in the movie is when Aviva is lying on the abortion table, right before the procedure, she has such sorrow in her eyes, the baby she already loves is about to be killed, she knows this, but is too young and naive to do anything about it, she already has a name picked out for it...Henrieta. After the abortion Aviva is upset and runs away, encountering numerous interesting and complex and morally challenging characters, that only Solondz would dare create. On her adventure, she adopts the name of Henrieta, which reminds us that both her and her aborted baby are both one in the same. They're both lost, neither of them got the chance that most normal children would, in a way, they're both dead.

One of the more memorable scenes is when Aviva encounters Mamma Sunshine who runs a home of, in a way, lost children. These are all children with disabilities, these are the children Aviva's mother was referring to as reasons to have abortion. However, all these children truly seem happy to be alive, and they're enjoying life.

Todd Solondz's true genius lies in his ability to make us challenge our own beliefs. In Happiness he confronted the audience by giving us a human, compassionate pedophile who, rather then hating, you pity. In Palindromes, he challenges us by making us actually want Aviva to have her baby, despite it going against all reason and logic, and despite our social morals that many people share about child pregnancy and abortion.

The film also makes a statement about humanity. No matter what, we're always going to be the same, deep down. The character of Aviva is played by numerous people, ranging in age, race, even sex, but she's always the same character, deep down.

The compassion and love he has for his characters is glaringly obvious, and it's hard for the audience to also not feel something for his characters, despite their sometimes horrific flaws. Palindromes is no exception. All the characters are developed beautifully and it's hard not to feel compassion for all of them, Aviva especially, as the sad, lost soul who was forced to give up the only good thing in her life.

Todd Solondz is, IMO one of the most promising and interesting film makers in the world right now. His films are challenging, intriguing, thought provoking and touching, and he's not afraid to push the envelope and challenge us on a controversial topic. I can't wait for what he has in store next.

In short, Palindromes is a beautiful, touching, thought provoking and heart breaking film about a sad little girl who has lost the only pure thing in her life, and with it, her own purity.
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1/10
Alternating Between Boring and Painful
Freak-725 April 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I almost never write comments on films although I go to films 3-4 times a week. I have seen all of Todd's previous films and although never a fan of his work I have always found his films watchable. I have also always enjoyed his perverse sensibility even when the films themselves seem pointless and indulgent. Palindromes has pushed me over the edge and now I feel unlikely to ever see a TS film again. Why? I suddenly feel that all of Todd's films are part of a big sick joke that he is playing on us all. I pity the critics who revere this film. You are kidding!

The notion of using 7-8 different actors to play Aviva was extremely distracting. The actual "story" was very unpleasant and offered no perspective or point of view on the unpleasantness. The Sunshine family musical parts were so offensive. I truly felt as if these poor children were being objectified by some effete freak so he could make some "point". At least in films like "Female Trouble" or "Pink Flamingos" JW is reveling in a kind of trashy aesthetic which I can enjoy. The flat-liner performances were excruciating (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

At the end I felt like I had really wasted two hours of my life. Horrifying.
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4/10
A movie that will divide audiences, but include me out.
CharteredStreets18 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Some movies bring members of the audience together, and some divide them. "Palindromes" is a movie that no one seems to agree on; even the people who love it seem to love it for different reasons ('Sickly great!' claims one review on IMDb; 'Strange and ugly but original and necessary' says another – though I'm not sure I particularly want to see 'necessary' films). It's directed by Todd Solondz, whose controversial "Happiness" was about everything but happiness. This time, he is taking on the subject of teenage pregnancies, with hilarious consequences/heart-breaking results (depends on whom you listen to). I didn't find it heart-breaking or hilarious; by trying to be both, it's neither.

The central character of "Palindromes" is Aviva. She becomes pregnant aged thirteen and runs away from home after her parents force her to have an abortion. Throughout the movie, she is played by different actresses, most of whom are relatively unknown, except for – all too briefly – Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Aviva (whose name, as you may have spotted, is a palindrome) discovers a little commune of Christians which is happy to take her in. It is run by Mama Sunshine, who bakes the best Jesus Tear Drop cookies in the state. The children she looks after are all disabled in one way or another. She is played by Debra Monk as a caricature of a kind, conservative Christian, but how else could the role be played? I am relieved to discover that Monk's next role is as one of the Little Old Ladies in the new musical film of "The Producers," a character with much more scope for development.

You may notice what Solondz is doing here; he is reversing the stereotypes. We have Aviva's mother (played by Ellen Barkin), who is not only in favour of abortion; she demands it, almost violently, of her daughter. And we have Mama Sunshine who represents the American religious Right, but she is full of, well, sunshine; why get angry when you can make such good cookies? Among the other colourless characters Aviva meets on her journey are Judah, who prefers to be called Otto (can you guess why?) another thirteen year old whom she has sex with, and a paedophile lorry driver who sleeps with her, and later turns out to be working for Mama Sunshine's family as a hired assassin to kill abortion doctors. Subtlety is not this film's strong point.

There will be some who interpret the film differently from me and think I'm missing the point. Personally, I was disappointed to see someone of Solondz's talent resort to this crowbar satire; if pro-life people get annoyed at the way the Mama Sunshine character is shown, I can hardly blame them. Of course, humour is the most subjective of things, and you'll either laugh or you won't. I admired the way that Solondz does not give an easy answer to the extremely tricky issue of abortion, and I think the film may provoke useful discussions on the subject. I also sort of liked the device of using different actresses in the same role; it blurs the boundaries between the characters and extends the story to all young girls in this position. And I was surprised by the ultimate message of the movie; that we are who we are, backwards and forwards (like a palindrome), and that no one really changes.

All this time though, the movie is devoid of characters. Aviva, her mum, Mama Sunshine, the paedophile; none of these is a character. They're all caricatures. Despite the movie's intelligence, I never got emotionally involved at all, and I never laughed at the humour (when Mama Sunshine mourns the fact that one of the girls has run away, despite the fact 'she didn't have any legs,' I didn't laugh; I averted my eyes from the screen in embarrassment). In "Happiness," an equally tricky movie, I was emotionally involved; is there a more painful scene in recent memory than the one where Dylan Baker has to explain to his son why he is being called a paedophile in the neighbourhood? His character, along with Philip Seymour Hoffman's and the others, were, for all their faults, human beings. In "Palindromes," the actors are never really given an opportunity to act; they all wear the same expression all through the movie. That may well be Solondz's point, but it is at the expense of our empathy for them.

I'm not saying all movies have to do the same thing. I agree with Pauline Kael when she said 'movies can give us almost anything; almost everything.' But what does "Palindromes" give us, really? Solondz takes a tricky problem, presents it, and lets us make up our own minds. In that sense, the movie is admirable, but it's not much else.
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7/10
"A delicate film with some trickery"
dw_krause13 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Solondz introduced Palindromes as "a delicate film with some trickery" before I screened it at SXSW. Negating the shock and awe of the underage octo-lead character (you'll understand about 25-30 minutes in) bedding down and falling in love with a pedophile, the storytelling is beset with enough lambasting humor that it garners afterthoughts of "oh-kay" as opposed to "whoah." "Happiness"— Solondz's measuring stick— ultimately achieves the opposite, which is why Palindromes is only as memorable as its title applies and insinuates.

Its delicacy is in its unflinching bravery to expose what most independent filmmakers can and will only attempt to suggest. How can one artist be so elegant with such subject manner and not be jailed is tribute enough. (SPOILER ALERT) Solondz's trickery comes this time (the whole "Storytelling" box out scene in retrospect seems childish and silly) in the form of multiple actresses playing the same part (it's a statement in of itself about our melting pot). But this is only a facade of his manipulations. All at once we become consumed by his humorous, not withstanding pretentious ploys and fall stomach-twisting first into a disheartening and captivating snapshot of today's American Average (rather that's New Jersey Average). When it's all tied up with a preachy bookend, one reflects back to the beginning of Aviva's escapades (the title character's name) and wonders what the hell was so funny anyway.

Note that preachy bookend too, which obviously is an in the face attempt to disprove once and for all his dirty-minded skeptics that he is indeed NOT as his artistic endeavors would suggest anything like his characters— in the form of Mike Wiener (brother of Dawn from "Welcome to the Dollhouse") much ados Solondz's efforts as his title suggests: he is not going to change, so deal with it. I just hope Todd grows a little fatter, or darker, or less self-evasive with his lavish lamentations of all that ales Americana.
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1/10
Offensive, pointless, and bordering on criminal
pork_odor_detective5 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I am a fan of Todd Solondz, or rather, I was a fan of Todd Solondz. After watching "Palindromes" I doubt I will ever see one of his movies again. I loved "Welcome to the Doll House." "Happiness" was visionary, precisely because of its use of deeply uncomfortable, sometimes inappropriate material to sketch a powerful schematic of the title emotion.

His latest is gratuitous, without apparent purpose. Billed as a comedy, I found it completely unfunny. And I'm specifically not saying that the movie was "not funny" (as in I found the humour offensive or inappropriate), I'm saying it was unfunny (as in humourless). Too be generous, Ellen Barkin's justification for aborting her second child had the briefest of moments. The blind Born Again child with band-aids on her fingers from cutting open the bacon, maybe a short giggle. Otherwise, I couldn't find it. Was it the five year old being shot in the back of the head? The main character being anally raped in a hotel room? I just don't know.

Perhaps I was meant to chuckle at the incredibly large percentage of the movie that was devoted to the portrayal of children having sex with each other, and with adults as well.

I watched it til the end, hoping for some redemption. Finally I could no longer suspend, and was left in disbelief that this movie ever made it into production.

When I return it to my local video store, I will suggest that they put it in the trash, where it belongs.
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8/10
Has to be of interest
jfigl23 June 2004
Solondz has grown by leaps and bounds with every film as a writer, director, and perhaps especially as a connoisseur of fine actors. He hones a minimalist approach to visual composition and editing which is the perfect complement to his increasingly dire perspective on the human condition. If you can locate a copy of the film, compare the over-the-top, anything-goes approach on display in Solondz's screechingly neurotic first film ("Fear, Anxiety, and Depression") to the lives of quiet desperation so coldly expressed in his two most recent films.

I would no sooner pass up a new Solondz film than I would forget to breathe.
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5/10
Pride and Prejudice
diand_10 February 2005
As a movie about abortion this is a disappointment. The actions are so overstated, the drama so overacted that we cannot take the debate very serious here. Far superior is Payne's Citizen Ruth and Palindromes seems to borrow at least part of the storyline (portraying the family that's a little bit too much God-loving/fearing or the left-wing pro-choicers that don't leave any choice open). Because Aviva in Palindromes wants to have a baby at a very young age she's pro-choice seems to be the message here.

But that's not the interesting part about this movie. One character played by many actresses is a rather novel idea. Solondz lets us experience how we project our own prejudices upon a character and we are confused by it. A funny scene soon is thrown back in our face by the director and that's exactly the effect he's aiming at. In Storytelling he experimented with how far he could take humor before becoming a little bit too painful for the audience. (On a more ferocious scale this game is played in C'est arrivé près de chez vous / Man bites dog).

Unfortunately, it's too much bits and pieces, too incoherent to even come close to his last two movies. Still some very funny lines and well written.
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Things You Can Tell By Just Looking At Her
tedg11 July 2007
I admit, I liked the idea of this. The story is completely a waste for me, even though we all like to poke cheap fun at sanctimonious fundamentalists as the ironic representative of a flawed designer.

What's at the core here is the device of portraying our 13 year old girl by a variety of beings. I liked it when I saw it elsewhere, especially the implicit merger of being in the work of Garcia. Is it worth it for this actorly circumlocution alone? Probably yes, because of the way it is handled. The character, like all real ones, is a blur, a manifold being. We never see people anyway, only our models of them. So to break the wall and see many models is a sort of intimacy. Its not a gimmick, but a device that works.

And that's why we come. For something that goes deeper.

I wish, though, that Solandz was a bit deeper as a person. Medem goes deeper on this ambiguous identity thing. Several Tilda Swinton projects like "Conceiving Ada" or "Female Perversions" go deeper into the knots of birth urge.

Like so many other theatrical experiments, one wishes the technician would meet and marry the emotional explorer. Not work with, not have a relationship with, but marry and coabsorb. Embodiment of futures.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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1/10
Send Solondz to the minors
scorseseisgod-112 November 2005
How can I dislike a film that features real mongoloids, Christian-bashing, fat girls in belly shirts and a plate filled with homemade "Jesus' tears" cookies? With Todd Solondz, it has become a matter of course.

The film opens with a memorial card for Dawn Weiner, the lead character in "Welcome to the Dollhouse," Solondz's ode to suburban angst. Yearning to create an "inner-dialogue" for his minions, he felt it necessary to establish Dawn's death in order to squelch any parallels to Aviva. I have an idea - if you fear drawing similarities don't dedicate a film to her! In truth, the director begged Heather Matarazzo to reprise 'Weinerdog,' the role that put her on the map, but the actress wisely refused. She must have read the script.

There is nothing more frustrating than sitting through a comedy and not knowing when or where to laugh. If ever a film had a shot at sick-freak masterwork it's this one, but Solondz couldn't resist 'arting' it up. Not through visuals, but alleged narrative complexity. For no good reason other than he liked the idea, at least a half-dozen actresses play the role of Aviva, a pregnant thirteen-year-old desperate to keep her baby. (One incantation named Huckleberry inexplicably makes two brief appearances mid-film and at the end.) Her sensible parents (Ellen Barkin and Richard Masur) insist on an abortion after which Aviva runs away from home. She winds up in the care of Mama Sunshine and her surrogate band of medical anomalies and curiosities.

If this sounds like it has the makings of a made-for-TV movie, wait till you see it. An assemblage of flatly-lit, TV-safe reverse angles. And close-ups - yard after yard of wasted close-ups. This is not an example of a seasoned artist skillfully breaking the rules. To my knowledge, he is the only director to use long shots to punctuate his close-ups instead of the other way around. If it is meant to be a stylistic device, it fails miserably.

Was Solondz shooting for an anti-abortion message? Surely he is neither skilled nor democratic enough to objectively present the material for the audience to sort through. Still, I was left with a sense of uneasiness throughout. It had nothing to do with what Solondz was saying, but the queasy sense of a creator unable to successfully formulate and present satire. Solondz carelessly trudges the fine line between parody and mere replication.

Lacking the wit and visual complexity of either Harmony Korine or Larry Clark, Solondz's desperate stretch to add depth and texture through casting simply results in confusion. Attempts to recapture the balls-out flagrance of pre-MPAA John Waters fall flat because Solondz quite simply doesn't have the balls to pull it off.

Thoughts of Bunuel's "That Obscure Object of Desire" immediately come to mind, but Solondz's citing "Bewitched's" Darren-swapping as another prime source of inspiration makes more sense. His distributor proclaims this, "the work of a more mature artist who is clearly savoring the profound flavor of moral complexity." In reality, the film is a goof, a lame attempt by a filmmaker to graft meaning onto his artifice through an offbeat gimmick. Without it, the film plays like a cross between a teen pregnancy classroom film and "The 700 Club."
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