Palindromes Movie Review

Ponderable provocation is writer-director Todd Solondzraison d'etre.

In his 1996 debut "Welcometo the Dollhouse" he thrust unsuspectingaudiences into a tormentingly personal and visceral parable of extremeteenage angst and too-early sexuality. 1998's "Happiness"delved into sexual deviance with a sympathetic bent that dared you to hateit. "Storytelling,"Solondz's less-focused film of short stories, pushed NC-17 territory witha graphic and race-baiting sex scene, among other button-pushing developments.

But "Palindromes" is daring in a way that goesbeyond its inflammatory themes of pedophilia, abortion, selfish parenting,and religious extremism masquerading as piety -- it's a film that demandsyou get deep inside its troubled heroine's psyche by continually yankingthe rug out from under you with her inconsistent outward appearance.

Aviva is a meek, hapless, vulnerable but naively resilient13-year-old who runs away from home after foolishly but deliberately gettingpregnant (after 8 seconds of indolent sex), then being forced into an abortion(which is botched) by a protective mother (Ellen Barkin) who speaks caringlybut never really listens. Alone on the road and desperate for some modicumof unconditional acceptance, she comes under the influence of unhingedadults of both perverse and sunshiny self-righteous stripes in episodestinged with tribulation (of which Aviva is often barely aware) and extremelyacrid humor.

Throughout the film she's the same girl, with the samemousy voice, the same dangerously desperate insecurity, the same downcasteyes and fragile body language -- and in fact, that's the point. As thetitle (and her name) implies, Aviva is the same backwards as forwards.She isn't strong enough in her pallid self-identity to grow through herexperiences. But at the same time, Aviva is so well-drawn by Solondz thather character remains noticeably unchanged even though she's played byeight different performers in successive episodes, including a pudgy teenagebrunette with a baby face, a weedy adolescent redhead, a lisping 6-year-oldgirl, an androgynous boy, a 250-lb. African-American woman and a moviestar (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

Rather than calling attention to itself, the practicalupshot of Solondz's strange stunt-casting is that it forces you to seethe character from inside out -- to see the disquieting situations Avivastumbles into from inside her bubble of desperation and ignorance, andnot as an outside observer.

Shot on video to provide an invasion-of-privacy immediacyand driven by characters in Aviva's life who are also not what they appearto be on the surface, "Palindromes" takes you to places mostmovies wouldn't dare. But what makes it memorable is the troubling, powerfulquestion that lurks beneath the surface of the film itself: Can peoplereally change, or are we ultimately, despite all our complexities, hopesand aspiration, like Aviva -- the same backwards and forwards?


Palindromes Rating

" OK "

Rating: R, LIMITED: Friday, May 6, 2005


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