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Live not on evil

By |2005-05-05T09:00:00-04:00May 5th, 2005|Uncategorized|

If you love someone, set them free. If they come back to you, it was meant to be.
But if you want to break up with someone, take them to see “Palindromes,” the newest film by gay writer and director Todd Solondz.
“Palindromes,” called “a fable of innocence,” takes on controversial topics like abortion, pedophilia, disabled children and teen sex as we follow 13 year-old Aviva on her determined quest to get pregnant. In fact, she wants “to have as many babies as possible” so she’ll “always have someone to love.” When Aviva’s parents insist she have an abortion she runs away from home, determined to get knocked up again by any means necessary.
None of Solondz’s films are easy to watch. But his earlier films, like 1998’s “Happiness” and 1995’s “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” are challenging in a much more gratifying way than “Palindromes.” “Happiness” is an excellent tableau of human misery with outcast characters who are engaging even while they are often repulsive. It isn’t something you watch to be uplifted. It’s a film you watch to reconnect with life’s baser instincts, a film to keep you grounded. Real life is painful, and Solondz has a knack for transferring this to film.
But, though it has some admirable qualities, “Palindromes” doesn’t quite work.
Solondz’s choice to have Aviva played by seven completely different people is questionable. The actresses ranged from a waif-like redhead with braces (Hannah Freiman) to an obese black woman (Sharon Wilkins) to a 12 year-old boy (Will Denton) to, of all people, Jennifer Jason Lee who is, for the record, one of my least favorite actresses, but whose performance here is no worse than the other Avivas, even given the fact that she is not even close to age 13. In fact, Solondz himself stated that he worried the multiple Avivas “would come across as too much of an intellectual exercise, a show-offy but pointless trick, and alienate the audience.” The effect he was hoping for, he said, was magic. All it did for me was keep me from getting emotionally invested in the character.
In fact, none of the characters were easy to warm up to, and that was probably intentional on Solondz’s part. His minimalist and detached filmmaking style, while often very effective in dragging out uncomfortable moments in his other movies, makes “Palindromes” drag on and on.
What is admirable about “Palindromes,” however, is the way that both sides of the abortion issue are portrayed in ways that are hardly sympathetic. Solondz doesn’t pander to pro-life or pro-choice positions.
Aviva’s mother (a stand-out performance by Ellen Barkin), urges her to get an abortion and relays a story about her own decision to have an abortion years before. One of the benefits of this abortion, her mother says, is that the family has money to buy Aviva things like “N’Sync tickets.” This is hardly comforting to her daughter and hardly a feminist manifesto about a woman’s right to choose.
When Aviva runs away, she ends up at the home of the adamantly pro-life Christian Mama Sunshine (Debra Monk) who takes in disabled children and leads them to Christ. However, while Mama Sunshine is baking Jesus cookies and encouraging the kids to get their Jesus-groove on as the Sunshine Singers, her husband is hatching murderous plans to rid the world of abortion doctors. Of course, the doctor he’s ready to kill happens to be the same doctor who performed Aviva’s abortion and the man he’s hired to do it happens to know Aviva. Biblically.
Subtlety is not the film’s strong point.
Interestingly, Solondz is adamant that this is not an “issue” movie. “I have no interest in such a movie,” he says. “The two sides of the ‘issue’ are irreconcilable, and I accept this irreconcilability.”
The issue, he says, is Aviva, and how she navigates between two completely different, and irreconcilable, worlds. And how neither of these worlds seem to really change her.
As the title suggests, “Palindromes” comes full circle, ending where it began, but by the time the ending comes around you’ve either already figured it out or won’t care.
This film will stick with you, however. Whether it’s haunting your brain or stuck in your craw, it’s hard to shake it free.

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