Language: English, Hebrew
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director/Writer: Todd Solondz
Music: Nathan Larson
Cinematography: Tom Richmond
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Stephen Adly Guirgis
Todd Solondz’s fifth feature, a divisive drama-comedy even among his acolytes, PALINDROMES makes great play of an outré gimmick, its protagonist, a 13-year-old girl Aviva is played by eight different actors in its chronicling chapters (8 chapters plus a coda rehashes the same procedure in Aviva’s broody attempt), they are vary in appearance, age, race, even sex (including one familiar face, Jennifer Jason Leigh, superbly cooing to capture a child’s mannerism), fairly predates I’M NOT THERE. (2007), from another Todd, incontrovertibly much more prestigious, Mr. Haynes.
Yes, Aviva, her name is a palindrome, which is recently implemented in Denis Villeneuve’s ARRIVAL (2016) to under-gird the ethereal mystery of predestination, yet in Solondz’s methodology, palindromes are emblems of human nature, which is explicitly rounded out by the acrimonious speech of Mark Wiener (Faber) near the ending, a character stems from Solondz’s breakthrough WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE (1995), here an alleged pedophile shunned by everyone else but Aviva – we perpetually run back to the same pattern in our individual trajectory and remain more-or-less the same person, that is palindrome, a sociological pathology nestled everywhere.
The story unflinchingly tackles the thorny subjects of baby fever, teen sex, abortion-and-its-risk, child abuse, religious fanatics and pedophile, sometimes feels a tad over-stretching to skewer all these into one feature length, and how on earth could we endorse an opinionated pre-teen who is possessed with the idea of becoming a mother, with some part of the world is still endemic with harrowing child-bride horrors? Nor can we lay the complete blame on her helicopter mom Joyce Victor (Barkin), as self-serving and inconsiderate as she is, when a girl is at that delicate age, honestly, moms always know the best.
Ingenious as the narrative device is, spoon-feeds us with the universality of the identity of Aviva, each chapter can be regarded as a vignette holds its own wholeness, interleaved with an idyll interlude when Aviva is played by a boy (Denton) roaming in the countryside. The meat of the story is the chapter where Aviva is portrayed by a plus-size adult black woman (Wilkins), an elephantine presence where a 13-year-old girl dwells inside, this agency of discrepancy imbues a perturbing vibe during Aviva’s sojourn with the counter-intuitively insidious foster family headed by God-botherers Mama Sunshine (Monk) and Bo Sunshine (Bobbie). And in the ensuring sequences where Aviva hitchhiking with a stocky middle-aged lorry-driver-turned-hitman Bob (Guirgis), the inappropriately one-sided tenderness is spiked with a pungent scent of reactive self-consciousness from another side, one might get bemused in Solondz’s straddling stance about the semi-romantic-semi-perverse rapport (though we firmly grasp his take on pro-choice/pro-life option) until the violence bursts out, follows by a foregone conclusion and rounds off Aviva’s daring adventure.
Contentious in its self-inflicted archness, PALINDROMES is hard to decipher after its bold but sketchy presentation of a nexus of problems beset in America, like a nihilistic anecdote sums up to this: everything sucks, people are doomed and our world rotates in a rut, ad nauseam, especially under today’s circumstances, we don’t need to watch a movie to get a glimpse of this.