Director Todd Solondz is known for his desire and ability to push the various buttons of his audience! From Welcome to the Dollhouse to Happiness, Solondz crafts films and writes screenplays with the innate intention of making his audience squirm in discomfort as he tells stories tailor-made for the negative and disturbed in all of us. Are they cheap tricks? Well, no! Solondz knows the Psyche of the Zeitgeist and has an interesting skill at needling it until it screams just a little bit, and he manages to do the whole shebang with a liberal dosage of black, black humor and inappropriate comic imagery.
From his first (theatrical) film, 1989's Fear, Anxiety and Depression up to 2001's Storytelling, his tales of the oppressed and mentally ill have tickled as much as disturbed, and his latest, Palindromes is no different. Palindromes is the tale of a young girl named Aviva whose ambition in life is to have babies, lots of babies, as many babies as possible, for no apparent reason beyond... she just does! Interestingly enough, she has very little interest in Sex, but a maternal instinct that dwarfs that of most doe bunny rabbits.
Along the way she must face off with abortion-happy parents (played by Ellen Barkin and Richard Masur), perverted suitors, an ultra-religious half-way house and a sick and twisted journey down the asphalt-brick-road with no Oz waiting at the end.
Aviva's journey is shared by people like Mom and Dad, not to mention Bob and Otto, and any number of other Palindromes out there. Aviva herself is played by no less than seven very different actors, one per scene, and is clearly desimplifed partially because of this. While Valerie Shusterov, Hannah Freiman, Will Denton, Rachel Corr, Sharon Wilkins, Shayna Levine and Jennifer Jason Leigh all add a different, and interesting, aspect to the character, each is actually more disturbing in a different way.
In his depiction of child sexuality, inversion of the "Leave it to Beaver" family, twisting of traditional characterizations and inclusion of words and actions that (we hope) no child would actually say, do, or be exposed to, it's clear that Solondz is still playing in the same sandbox and having a damned fine time doing it. Is he telling a good story? Well, it's well done, but it's clear that the Toddler is really trying to affect and disturb the audience. That's not to say that Palindromes isn't a success at what it sets out to do, but it is painfully obvious that Solondz is trying, and in many cases, perhaps he's trying a little too hard, to the point that his machinations are just "Obvious"!
That said, Solondz' dialogue is excellent, as is his directorial ability to convey mood. Sure he's conveying a mood you probably don't want to be in, but it takes a good director to succeed at such a thing! As the filmic Palindrome finally unspools at the very end of the movie to its creepy finale, you might wonder what the point was, or what the hell you sat through this thing for. However, take note... Solondz has been doing this long enough and successfully enough that he could be directing Hollywood sell-out films right now, and Palindromes proves he's still got it. Why doesn't he do it? He's not a whore! This is what he wants to do with his camera eye, and whether you like what he's giving you or not, he's giving it to you on his capable terms.
You might like it if you enjoy the edgy films that twist the knife just a bit as they make you think, or if you're just, plain, a Todd Solondz fan. You might want to avoid it if you're easily offended, or don't want to separate reality from dark satire. He's none too kind on his imagery, or those that he's writing about. As my friend said as the credits rolled, "I might have to see this a few more times to really get it... but I'm not sure I can sit through it again!"
Three cheers for the skilled writer/ director who does his own thing, beats his own drum and follows his own path. But not every experiment creates alchemical gold, so these three cheers get Three Stars out of Five! So, until I sell all the legal rights to this website to become biologically able to have a baby, I'll see you in the next reel-of-discomfort! Creepy!
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