A review of “Palindromes” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: Not rated but should be R for nudity and language

Run Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

 

 

Director Todd Solondz is best known for his domestic creep-fests, from the twisted adolescence of Welcome to the Dollhouse to the squirmy pedophilia of Happiness.

Welcome to Todd’s world, where 13-year old Aviva Victor wants one thing in life: to become a mom.  Much to the dismay of her sensible parents (Ellen Barkin and Richard Masur) who obviously want her to wait.

Aviva is so determined to get pregnant that she runs away from home and shacks up with a total stranger to get the deed done. Along the way she encounters any number of kindly and not-so-kindly folk from the typical (lonely truck-driver) to the bizarre (nauseatingly cheerful Christian home filled with child handicappers).

The plot is straightforward but its evolution is anything but.  Aviva is played by eight different actors – young and old (forty-three year old Jennifer Jason Leigh), thick and thin, black and white.  This cunning tool (a favorite of veteran filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard and Luis Buňuel) represents Aviva in perpetual transformation, a female Everyman with endless facets of personality to be explored.

Beyond the discombobulating abstract symbolism the story finds its footing. Aviva’s blatant desire for acceptance is uncommonly sad and her journey is emotionally provoking. The comedy elements are questionable; biggest yuks coming at the expense of Jesus-loving right-to-lifers and Aviva as portrayed by a startlingly obese black woman.

Solondz’s vision is ambiguous, its possibilities ranging from an anti-abortion anthem to a rah-rah Christian-right fest and an opus for the socially oppressed.  Barkin lends stability with a terrific performance as the ultimate mother cat – determined to protect Aviva no matter what the emotional cost. 

Palindromes isn’t for everyone; for fans of challenging alternative cinema it may be just the ticket.