Palindromes (18)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner20/10/2004

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 100 mins

Smartly directed, intriguing film that uses its central gimmick to explore ideas of sympathy and identification.

Palindromes is the latest film from writer-director Todd Solondz, who made his name with darkly comic dramas Happiness and Welcome to the Dollshouse. Though his previous film, Storytelling, was something of a disappointment, a new film by Solondz is always something to look forward to, whatever the result.

With his new film he employs a central gimmick that initially seems like pretentious trickery, but gradually forces you to confront various ideas about sympathy, identity and character identification.

12 Year Old Seeks Pregnancy

The plot revolves around 12 year old Aviva Victor, who desperately wants to get pregnant so she can have somebody who will always love her. She gets pregnant by a geeky boy (Robert Agri) who is the son of a family friend. However, her parents (Ellen Barkin and Richard Masur) force her to have an abortion and she runs away from home, unaware that the operation has resulted in her being unable to bear children.

While on her travels, she falls in love with a lonely trucker (Stephen Adly Guigis) before being accepted into a community of adopted disabled children, presided over by Mama Sunshine (Debra Monk).

Solondz’s impressive central gimmick is to have eight different actors play Aviva. She is played variously by two women (Jennifer Jason Leigh and Sharon Wilkins), four girls, aged between 12 and 14, a twelve year old boy and a six year old girl. The actors are different in terms of age, race and stages of adulthood – this is most striking when Aviva is portrayed by Wilkins, an overweight black actress.

The trick works surprisingly well. Aviva is never less than sympathetic throughout, but your reactions change considerably according to who is playing her.

Excellent Performances From All

The performances are excellent, with each actress bringing out something different in Aviva. (The boy, Will Denton, only plays her briefly, during a silent scene in the woods). The supporting cast are good too: Ellen Barkin, in particular is both monstrous and darkly funny as Aviva’s mother and Alexander Brickel stands out as Peter Paul, the boy who befriends Aviva and brings her home to Mama Sunshine.

As with most Solondz films, this won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but there’s enough here to give you something to think about. The gimmick itself isn’t exactly new (Luis Bunuel did the same thing with two actresses in That Obscure Object Of Desire) but Solondz gives it his own twist and makes it work brilliantly. In another year, Palindromes would probably have been the most controversial film at the London Film Festival but this year, it has unfortunately had its thunder comprehensively stolen by The Woodsman and Mysterious Skin. At any rate, it’s an interesting, well directed, impressively acted film that is definitely worth seeing, despite its flaws.

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Content updated: 16/12/2017 03:23

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