Palindromes movie review, Todd Solondz, Emani Sledge, Valerie Shusterov, Hannah Freidman, Rachel Corr, Will Denton, Sharon Wilkins, Shayna Levine, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ellen Barkin. Review by Rob Blackwelder ©SPLICEDwire
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A scene from 'Palindromes'
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3 stars
100 minutes | Rated: R
LIMITED: Friday, May 6, 2005
Written & directed by Todd Solondz

Starring Emani Sledge, Valerie Shusterov, Hannah Freidman, Rachel Corr, Will Denton, Sharon Wilkins, Shayna Levine, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ellen Barkin, Matthew Faber, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Alexander Brickel, Debra Monk


  • Todd Solondz
  • Jennifer Jason Leigh
  • Ellen Barkin

  •  LINKS for this film
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    Solondz stirs controversy again with 'Palindromes,' a dark fable of a naive teen who is exactly what she doesn't appear to be

    By Rob Blackwelder

    Ponderable provocation is writer-director Todd Solondz raison d'etre.

    In his 1996 debut "Welcome to the Dollhouse" he thrust unsuspecting audiences into a tormentingly personal and visceral parable of extreme teenage angst and too-early sexuality. 1998's "Happiness" delved into sexual deviance with a sympathetic bent that dared you to hate it. "Storytelling," Solondz's less-focused film of short stories, pushed NC-17 territory with a graphic and race-baiting sex scene, among other button-pushing developments.

    But "Palindromes" is daring in a way that goes beyond its inflammatory themes of pedophilia, abortion, selfish parenting, and religious extremism masquerading as piety -- it's a film that demands you get deep inside its troubled heroine's psyche by continually yanking the rug out from under you with her inconsistent outward appearance.

    Aviva is a meek, hapless, vulnerable but naively resilient 13-year-old who runs away from home after foolishly but deliberately getting pregnant (after 8 seconds of indolent sex), then being forced into an abortion (which is botched) by a protective mother (Ellen Barkin) who speaks caringly but never really listens. Alone on the road and desperate for some modicum of unconditional acceptance, she comes under the influence of unhinged adults of both perverse and sunshiny self-righteous stripes in episodes tinged with tribulation (of which Aviva is often barely aware) and extremely acrid humor.

    Throughout the film she's the same girl, with the same mousy voice, the same dangerously desperate insecurity, the same downcast eyes and fragile body language -- and in fact, that's the point. As the title (and her name) implies, Aviva is the same backward as forward. She isn't strong enough in her pallid self-identity to grow through her experiences. But at the same time, Aviva is so well-drawn by Solondz that her character remains noticeably unchanged even though she's played by eight different performers in successive episodes, including a pudgy teenage brunette with a baby face, a weedy adolescent redhead, a lisping 6-year-old girl, an androgynous boy, a 250-lb. African-American woman and a movie star (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

    Rather than calling attention to itself, the practical upshot of Solondz's strange stunt-casting is that it forces you to see the character from inside out -- to see the disquieting situations Aviva stumbles into from inside her bubble of desperation and ignorance, and not as an outside observer.

    Shot on what appears to be 16mm film, which provides an invasion-of-privacy immediacy, and driven by characters in Aviva's life who are also not what they appear to be on the surface, "Palindromes" takes you to places most movies wouldn't dare. But what makes it memorable is the troubling, powerful question that lurks beneath the surface of the film itself: Can people really change, or are we ultimately, despite all our complexities, hopes and aspirations, like Aviva -- the same backward and forward?

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