Palindromes (United States, 2004)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Palindromes, the fourth feature from Todd Solondz, makes me wonder whether this director only had two good films in him. A shallow, transparent satire/social commentary, Palindromes lives and dies on a gimmick. In an attempt to do something "artistic," Solondz uses eight different actresses to play his 12-year old protagonist, Aviva. The idea, I suppose, is to challenge the audience into looking beyond the body type and skin color, and to recognize that the core of an individual never changes. It's a juvenile, simplistic, and embarrassingly literal device, and it dooms any hope of character identification.

Setting aside Solondz's gimmick, we're left with a stale narrative that is short on insight and drama. There are occasional bursts of humor, and these quickly become the only reason to stick with the film. Solondz paints his supporting characters with broad strokes and his message - that people's essential natures do not change - is presented so murkily that he needs a character to give a speech to clarify things.

After an unsatisfying dalliance leaves Aviva pregnant, her mother (Ellen Barkin) and father (Richard Masur) decide that she's going to have an abortion, even though that's not what she wants. The operation is botched and she ends up unable to have children. Aviva then runs away from her New Jersey home and ends up living with a Christian "family" in Kansas. She becomes involved with a pedophile who brings her with him when he travels to New Jersey to execute an abortion doctor.

Palindromes transpires in the same universe as Solondz's first feature, Welcome to the Dollhouse. In fact, it opens with the funeral of that movie's protagonist, Dawn Weiner. At its best, Palindromes evokes the earlier film. As written, Aviva is much like Dawn. But the trick casting interferes with our ability to get to know her. And the acting is widely variable. Some of the performers to play Aviva are just plain bad. Then there's the strange case of Jennifer Jason Leigh. Why is an actress in her 40s playing a girl 30 years her junior? Again, we're supposed to look past appearances... Solondz is making a point here! The writer/director should have thought this idea through a little better before implementing it.

Palindromes (United States, 2004)

Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2005-04-13
MPAA Rating: "NR" (Sexual Situations, Nudity, Profanity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1