Todd Solondz's fourth film, Palindromes, tells the story of Aviva, a 13-year-old girl whose only desire in the world is to have

Matthew Koff







Directed by Todd Solondz


By Matt Koff


Todd Solondz's fourth film, Palindromes, is a success. Well, it is a success in that I left the theater feeling sick and hating everything. But, since this film takes place in a world where all humans are weak, awful creatures incapable of growth or change, I can only assume that nauseating the audience was among the director's stated objectives. So, good job, Mr. Solondz!


The film tells the story of Aviva, a 13-year-old love-starved adolescent girl whose only desire in the world is to have lots and lots of babies. After an agonizingly awkward sexual encounter with the son of family friends leaves her pregnant, Aviva's distraught parents demand, against her wishes, that she get an abortion. Due to complications, the doctor must perform a hysterectomy during the abortion, rendering Aviva incapable of ever having children. Oblivious to the mishap, the single-minded Aviva continues to pursue her doomed dream of becoming a mother. She runs away from home and gets involved with a pedophile trucker. She also meets a conservative Christian couple that adopts disabled children. Et cetera, et cetera.


I could go on with the synopsis, but I wouldn't want to ruin this horrible movie for you. There are many reasons why this film does not work, but here is the most important one: it is impossible to sympathize with Aviva. Why? Well, for one, she is a moron. In the first half of the film, she falls in love with a trucker. They have sex and then he abandons her, leaving her stranded at the motel room the next morning. This, we think, might just be common naiveté. But later in the film, she continues to pursue this same trucker. At this point, she becomes less a figure of tragic innocence than one of aggravating stupidity. 


This stupidity is strikingly similar to that of Dawn Weiner, the young protagonist of Solondz's first film,Welcome to the Dollhouse. This character also searches for love in the worst possible places. But that filmed worked, largely because of Heather Matarazzo's sweet, sad, and humorous portrayal of Dawn. In Palindromes, the main character is played by eight different actresses of varying ethnicities, body sizes, and ages. The film is divided into chapters, and with each new chapter, Aviva shifts bodily incarnations. By doing this, Solondz is attempting to show the, uh, universality of, uh, the spirit of the ... female ... somethingorother -- okay, I don't know what the hell he's trying to say, but the point is, the constant parade of actresses hurts the film drastically. Solondz is trying so hard to make a multileveled film that he forgets what it takes for a film to work on its most basic level: a real protagonist that we can relate to. Aviva's constantly altering form doesn't expand Aviva into a universal everywoman. It relegates her to the realm of an idea. In order for the audience to suspend its disbelief, it needs to believe that it is taking a journey with an actual, flesh-and-blood character. The film's shifting betrays that. Ultimately, Todd Solondz never lets us forget that we are watching a Todd Solondz film.


There are plenty of other things in the film which the director probably views as challenging, but which come off instead as cynical and gratuitous. For example, there is a sequence in which handicapped children sing and dance in a Christian Rock band. Solondz is clearly portraying the children in a comedic light. He is trying to "challenge" the audience by making us laugh, and at the same time make us feel guilty for laughing. Why is this necessary? I have no idea. Solondz needs to learn the difference between challenging viewers and needlessly punishing them.


Another way in which the film attempts to challenge is by presenting both sides of the abortion issue. We meet selfish, scary, liberal parents (played by Ellen Barkin and Richard Masur) who force their daughter into getting an abortion she doesn't want, and also right-wing lunatics who murder abortion doctors. The entire time, the audience is wondering what side of the issue the filmmaker is on. I'm not one to advocate telling the audience what to think, but by the time the film is over, there is nothing left to think except, "Everyone is bad, and everything is going to hell."  


If I had never seen a Todd Solondz film before, I might have loved this movie. But this is the fourth one I've seen, and after a while his trademark cynicism becomes transparent and thin. 


The film's essential message is voiced by the character Mark Weiner: "No one ever changes. They may think they do, but they don't." This is the kind of blanket generalization you'd expect to find in the diary of a fifteen-year-old. Solondz is clearly a talented filmmaker. It is a shame he can't use his talent to say something more interesting.