Time Out saysOn paper, Todd Solondz’s latest attempt to deflate the suburban American dream suggests no drastic change of direction for the clued-up shock-master of American indie film – the filmmaker who delivered us the icky pleasures of ‘Happiness’ and ‘Storytelling’. Indeed a link to Solondz’s earlier films is made clear in the film’s opening scene: it’s the funeral following the suicide of Dawn Wiener, the teenage character at the heart of Solondz’s 1995 film ‘Welcome to the Dollhouse’. Is this a statement of intent from Solondz, a declaration that he is somehow breaking with his own filmmaking past?
It hardly seems so. This time, our protagonist is again a scion of the Wiener family. Dawn’s cousin, Aviva, is a 12-year-old girl who falls pregnant as a result of an awkward fumble with Judah, a geeky family friend. Aviva’s distraught mother Joyce (Ellen Barkin) swiftly arranges a trip to Dr Fleischer, the local abortion doctor. The operation complete, Aviva runs away from home, falling into the hands first of ‘Joe’, a paedophile trucker, and then Mama Sunshine, an amiable matron who runs a happy-clappy care home for sick and disabled children. Here, Aviva meets ‘Joe’ again (now calling himself ‘Earl’) and joins him on a pro-life mission to murder an abortion doctor.
So far, so Solondz. As in his other films, the mood falls jarringly between the deathly serious and the camply comic (not least when Mama Sunshine’s kids break into a song-and-dance routine). But while ‘Welcome to the Dollhouse’, ‘Happiness’ and ‘Storytelling’ were essentially realist tales, ‘Palindromes’ isn’t bound by the same desire to remain credible. This is a fable – driven along by creepy, childish music – that draws on experiences from both sides of the liberal and conservative divide. To stress this, Solondz cast seven actresses (including Jennifer Jason Leigh) and one young actor to play Aviva, who is in turns white, black, thin, fat, young and old. Aviva is a canvas on which Solondz can draw his unsettling vision of Bush’s America. There’s no resolution here, no easy answer to the conflicts at the heart of modern America, but it’s a stark portrait of a troubled nation all the same.
Fri May 6, 2005