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"Palindromes"

Directed by Todd Solondz.
Written by Todd Solondz.
Starring Ellen Barkin and a bunch of women playing the same character.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  5/8/05

Folks--

So, in entering a movie theater knowing you are about to watch a Todd Solondz film, you know a couple of things--

1.  Things are gonna be fucked up.  His films are so weird that he usually just skips the ratings board and has all of them appear as "Not Rated."  This tells me that the blend of fucked-up ideals, sexual activities, violence, etc. in his films is certain to receive an "R" or worse so there's no use in paying the board to figure out what rating to give it.

2.  If you don't come into the film completely awake, drug-free and caffeinated, you are certain to be lost, confused, blown away or all of the above during the course of the movie.

Now, even though I knew this, I still don't get why Solondz's latest film, "Palindromes", has me a little lost.  In fact, I have waited almost a week to write this review because I'm still not sure why Solondz--the writer/director behind "Welcome to the Dollhouse", "Storytelling" and "Happiness"--tells his latest story the way he does.  This go-round is All About Aviva, a troubled girl that is obsessed from her childhood about becoming a mother.  Her own mother, Joyce (Ellen Barkin), seems supportive of this early on, but as Aviva grows older she and her mother go through many ups and downs as Aviva tries desperately to find a man that will get her pregnant.  As she searches for love in all of the wrong places, Aviva's intensity to get inseminated reaches many, well, interesting climaxes.

The thing that was confusing to me about "Palindromes" was Solondz's decision to have Aviva played by so many different people--she starts out as a heavy-set black girl and evolves over varying points to be either a beautiful white teen, a cracked-out 30-something and a slightly-overweight adolescent with braces...even, at one point, appearing as a boy.  This didn't do anything for me in terms of telling the story, not really representing the feelings of Aviva at each point in the story or even how she might be viewed by her environment.  No, it seemed like she just changes up her appearance in each vignette, and although I am sure I am missing something I don't believe that something to be so cool that it was worth the trouble.

The Aviva character is played quite well, though, and Solondz really does have a knack for pulling the most normal of human feelings into characters that are having a difficult time understanding their actions.  I loved the obese older black Aviva, because her voice just doesn't fit that huge body of hers, evoking more pity on a character that already elicits plenty for her innocent take on what it takes to raise a child in today's world.  Or the various men that Aviva encounters during the film's running time...a couple of them are the sad loner/loser types that are far from lovable but have a side that makes you wonder how many men you know that would take advantage of a girl like Aviva given the chance.  One of the sex scenes, between Aviva and one of her childhood neighbors, really does feel just right, in terms of what kids go through their first time around and not having any understanding of what sex entails; it is these kinds of scenes that Solondz does so well.

But by changing the appearance of his lead in almost every scene (each Aviva shows up roughly twice, save for the last one, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh), I didn't feel a connection to Aviva's dilemma as much as I would have if it was just played by one character, and despite some good laughs (none better than the "Mama Sunshine" segment; wow, that song and dance was...) I didn't have a resonating feeling one way or the other about "Palindromes" as a whole.  I do think it is worth seeing, but not in the way that "Happiness" was, just jaw-dropping in so many ways and cool in so many others.  "Palindromes" was just okay to me, but it still shows off the talents that Solondz brings to the table in each of his films.

Rating:  Matinee

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09