PalindromesReviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 09/10/05 21:26:39
The art house movie world has its own version of the loud kid who shouts profanities just to get attention, and his name is Todd Solondz. There he sits in the back of the class, every now and then letting rip with a dirty word, hoping somebody will turn his way and convey their shock. His films seem to exist as nothing more than controversy bait - “Happiness” was the study of a pedophile, “Storytelling” combined racial slurs and rough sex. Now comes “Palindromes,” an unbearably obnoxious effort in which Solondz throws up everything from abortion to birth defects to (once again) pedophilia.Ah, pedophilia. Perhaps Solondz is hoping to push some serious buttons by showing a preteen have sex multiple times throughout his film. Perhaps he just really likes watching little girls do the deed. Either way, he’s a dick.
But I digress. The gimmick here is that Solondz wants to rattle cages, and he’s willing to try anything. His script throws so much at us, yet there’s neither honesty nor wit in its social commentary. The plot, such as it is, finds too-young Aviva wanting so much to have a baby that she convinces the family friend’s son to have sex with her. Her mom (Ellen Barkin) makes her have an abortion, after which she runs away, meets up with a greasy trucker, gets laid, gets ditched, and finally winds up at a house filled with children with birth defects who make up a Christian song-and-dance group. Oh, and then there’s the planned murder of an abortion doctor. And because it’s called “Palindromes,” we wind up back at home by the end, although that’s not really a palindrome but a circle.
It’s so very busy, yet so very empty. He’s bringing up abortion and preteen sex and such simply on the hopes that his mentioning alone will be enough to get people talking. It’s less a story than it is a series of button-pushing ideas. But Solondz is so interested in pushing the buttons that he never once bothers to actually investigate anything. Topics come and go with the subtlety of a morning zoo shock jock, all eager to offend everyone but never bothering to stop and ask why. Why is abortion offensive? Why is the sight of a grown man having sex with a young girl offensive? That Solondz does not bother to answer, or at least even ask, these questions proves that as a filmmaker, he’s little more than Divine in “Pink Flamingos,” eating the dog poop just because he can - and because he knows people will watch him do it. For all its pompous attempts at seriousness and emotional depth, “Palindromes” is actually a remarkably shallow affair.
But it gets worse. Afraid that nobody would notice his weak attempts at daring controversy on their own (and why should they, since they lack the depth necessary to spawn discussion?), he goes for all-out pretentious by casting eight - count ’em, eight - different people to play Aviva. Most of them are teenage pasty types. One of them is a morbidly obese black woman. One of them is a boy. One of them is Jennifer Jason Leigh. (Not content with this, he also casts two boys in the role of the family friend.)
You can argue that Solondz is making some kind of statement with this casting decision - in fact, Solondz is so desperate to defend his gimmick that he’s forced to have a character pop up, deliver a speech about how people never change, even if they think they do (get it, man? It’s deep, like, wow), then disappear, his job done, casting gimmick cheaply defended.
The only statement I read from this, however, is that Solondz is stretching too far. In a film that screams “Look at me!! This is, like, different n’ crap!!,” the filmmaker makes one last gasp for the appearance of courageous experimental filmmaking. I can picture him now, sitting in his office, hiding his copies of “Underage Sluts” from his secretary, thinking up ways to make his next movie look “real edgy:”
Solondz: “Hey, remember in that one movie, where David Lynch changed the actor of the main character halfway through?”
Secretary: “Um… I think so.”
Solondz: “Like, yeah! That was way edgy! I should do that, too! Only, I’ll do it a lot more!”
Secretary: “Uh… why?”
Solondz: “Because it’ll be all different and stuff.” (makes fart sound with armpit) “Yeah!”
Secretary: “Whatever.” (long, uncomfortable pause) “What’re you lookin’ at?”
Solondz: “Ya know, if you were, like, twenty years younger, I’d be so totally hot for you.”
Secretary: “You realize I’m only 31, right?”
But, again, I digress.
With such an absence of thought and such an overabundance of ill-informed ugliness, there’s no chance to get involved with the story. Forget any message or lack thereof - on a mere story level, “Palindromes” fails because it refuses to connect us to any character. And how can we, when Solondz is more interested in having us laugh at the idea of Aviva suddenly being a big ol’ fat black lady than he is in developing an actual character?
Finally, there is the issue of acting. There is not a single watchable performance in this film. Quite the contrary, most of the performances are downright awful. Some of them I feel are the work of Solondz, who most likely instructed the professionals in the cast to keep it amateurish. But the rest (most notably a few younger actors) are flat-out embarrassing, horrible to the point of distraction; as impossible as it already is to engage oneself with this film, the terrible job of the cast only makes it more of a dreaded chore. I’m baffled as to why a filmmaker such as Solondz would be either unaware to the utter badness of the cast or content with it.There are those who will champion Solondz, as they have done in the past, either for his “boldness” in covering such taboo material or his “daring” in cast experimentation. More power to these people, I suppose. Me, I see the film as being too obvious in its desperation. (Hell, Solondz even bothers to bring back characters from his first - and most successful - film, “Welcome To the Dollhouse,” a sign that he’s itching to get people to remember when he used to be important, when he used to be liked.) So while some may say he’s attempting to push envelopes, I say that he’s once again doing nothing more than sitting in the class, saying “fuck” a lot, hoping somebody will pay him some attention again.
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