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Review: Palindromes

Kudos to Todd Solondz for making a film that, forward and backward, smells like total bullshit.

Photo: Wellspring

A palindrome refers both to an inverted strand of DNA or words or phrases that read the same forward and backward, and in his misguided Palindromes, Todd Solondz applies a forward-and-backward reflexivity to his narrative in a way that reduces female sexuality and the human experience. In a scene titled Huckleberry, the director vies for credibility as a cinematic Mark Twain. A young runaway boards a child’s abandoned swimming boat and makes her way down a river. We’re meant to think of Huckleberry Finn and Jim’s trip down the Mississippi—a symbol of the social and spiritual unrest of a collective America—but the sinister lyricism masks an even more sinister intention: If the lamb by the side of the river is any indication, the child is just some big dumb animal the director happily leads to slaughter.

The solipsistic Solondz fails to differentiate between good and evil, sadistically lumping everyone into the same boat and calling it a day. In the film, multiple girls and women play the same character: 12-year-old Aviva, who inexplicably wants to get pregnant and suffers countless abuses when she runs away from home after her parents force her to have an abortion. Young and old, fat and skinny, black and white—they’re all the same to the director, whose latest stunt doesn’t so much point to a shared female experience in America as it does to his own complete and utter disconnect from the world and his contempt for everyone—red and blue—who lives in it. Like Heather Matarazzo’s Dawn Weiner (from Welcome to the Dollhouse) and Dylan Baker’s Bill Maplewood (from Happiness), the frustratingly meek Aviva is another stand-in for the self-indulgent Solondz, who fancies himself a spokesman for the socially oppressed but does to celluloid what future serial killers of the world do to butterfly wings.

Nothing that happens in the attention-grabbing Palindromes illuminates social problems in America; it’s simply another elaborate metaphor for Solondz’s martyr complex. The film begins with the funeral of Dawn Wiener and ends with a relative of the dead girl recycling self-defeatist bits from Storytelling. The man may look like a creep but that doesn’t mean he likes to rape small children—at least, that’s what he tells us. In essence, what we have here is another Solondz doppelganger, who uses the film’s last act to more or less justify the director’s misanthropy (and lack of a belief system) by suggesting his venom is part of his DNA. Kudos then to Solondz for making a film that, forward and backward, smells like total bullshit.

Cast: Ellen Barkin, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Richard Masur, Debra Monk, Alexander Brickel, Rachel Corr, Hannah Freiman, John Gemberling, Shayna Levine, Tyler Maynard, Valerie Shusterov, Stephen Singer Director: Todd Solondz Screenwriter: Todd Solondz Distributor: Wellspring Running Time: 100 min Rating: NR Year: 2004 Buy: Video

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