Palindromes Movie Review
Imagine hateful movies like Ladder 49, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle as being one kind of deceptive lie about the world. The kind that oversimplifies human beings, pretending we are more beautiful or powerful or good or wholesome than we actually are. Imagine sitcoms that paint a picture of us as having perfect jobs, clothes, houses, and bodies. Those are the kinds of films and media that independent film purportedly rebels against. And Todd Solondz takes it so far in the opposite direction that he paints pictures of the ugly and the lost, then asks us to mock them, and say that there's no hope. Palindromes is just as loathsome as the worst kind of lie Hollywood or television has duped us with, because it's duping us just as much in a different way. It smears us in cinematic dogshit, then says, "Isn't that horrible?"
My advice would be not to buy it. Investors aren't lining up to fund Solondz's hour-of-hate features, and there's been a steady decline in budget (and quality) from Happiness to Palindromes. Maybe investors are getting wise; not just that they'll lose their money but that they don't want another Todd Solondz freak-show foisted upon the world. It probably makes them want to gargle their mouths out and take a shower immediately -- not unlike the effect Solondz's movies have on an audience. And you walk out of the theater a little unhappier, a little glummer, and no wiser.
Twelve-year-old suburban white girl Aviva (played by several different actresses, one of them Jennifer Jason Leigh and two others played by black girls including a sensitive, butt-of-jokes large girl named Sharon Wilkins) is the "palindrome" of the title: something that reads the same forwards and backwards. The irony: Many girls play the same part, going through the grueling experiences of Aviva's painful first sexual encounter, her first abortion (sanctioned by her mom, an over-the-top Ellen Barkin), her running away from home and fooling around with a shlub truck driver (Stephen Adly Guirgis), her acceptance into a Christian home led by Mama Sunshine (Debra Monk) that may not be all it seems, and a goody bag of other nasty hoops for Aviva to crawl through. All the girl wants is to get pregnant and have lots of babies. Needless to say, this sets Solondz up for an assortment of dead baby jokes. Yes, the Bible school is right near a garbage dump of aborted fetuses. Har-de-har-har. Mama Sunshine is also the matriarch for a house full of crippled children. Solondz has the pluck to stage them in an "I Love Jesus" song-and-dance number that might make Tod Browning blanche. Remember, the Freaks of Browning's classic film of the same name were the (admittedly exploited) heroes... not the bad jokes.
Here's a taste of Solondz irony: The pro-choice family forces their child to have an abortion; the pro-life family are assassins. You wonder what John Waters might have done with this in his heyday. But Solondz rubs your nose in his pared down infantilism. Thanks for nothing.
Reviewed as part of the 2004 New York Film Festival.
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