Writer/Director: Todd Solondz
Concept: 8 Aviva, is a very innocent 13 year old girl who wants to have a baby… …right now. She does anything she can to get pregnant. When she succeeds, her parents force her to have an abortion. So she precariously runs away to fulfill her mission. The world she encounters is even stranger than her objective. Aviva… is also played by 8 different actors of varying ages, races, and one of them is even a male…
Film’s trademark feel: A civilized, and picture perfect family life from the 1950s, plastic in it’s exterior, with the psychotically malicious underworld of today at war for camera time. It’s way beyond dysfunctional. Carelessly delighted, naive pleasantness, and yet it’s so atrociously immoral it’s utterly cringe inducing. I mean dear God… This somehow even goes further than the director’s film Happiness.
Acting: 7 It serves it’s purpose. It’s good. I wasn’t blown away by it, since it’s kids being kids. A emotionally draining performance is never needed from them. All of the acting very much intentionally resembles that fake 1950s picture perfect family in a creepy light I mentioned… It doesn’t stop characters from having occasional outbursts of mean hostility. If you saw Happiness you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Using this method sometimes magnifies the impurity of a really messed up scenario. It also deliberately makes certain dialog hilarious. I do like how all the shifting actors played the same exact demeanor of Aviva, except the youngest African girl.
Sets: 7 They weren’t ambitious since it’s mostly set in a Suburban world. They certainly are what they’re intended to be though.
Cinematography: 8 More of the same. It’s style is just like the sets and the acting. It does have it’s appeal and captures it’s actors in some very effective moments. It has a fairy tale quality that feels a tad surreal at times.
Screenplay: 8 What was Todd Solondz thinking when he wrote this screenplay (and I somehow didn’t even get that reaction from Happiness)? It’s a maddening mix of naive innocence, evil encounters, and intensely messed up situations. Then it inserts in twisted humor like it’s a square block being forced through a triangle hole. Yet somehow it works. At it’s core, it’s a really sad film. It plays slow, and drags a little at times, but then a insanely deranged event will happen. Repeat this formula again and again. You can’t say he isn’t original, nor can you scoff at all the clever hidden details he has included beneath this odd adventure.
Dialog: 8 The lines are of course childish since that’s who’s being filmed. On the other hand, there is some clever humor here. Also Mark, a borderline misanthrope, tells of his existentialism towards the end and it’s refreshingly sad. If you pay attention, his lecture has to do with the very theme of the movie, as well as the reason for 8 actors playing the same role.
Musical Score: 8 It’s good, and I love the use of abrupt stops to the music when the scenery and camera angle simultaneously change. My overall score is an 8. It would have been a 7, but the main theme song is a maxed out 10 without question! As simple as it is, it’s a brilliant waltz featuring the lullaby of a young girl’s voice. She sings no words but instead uses only “la la las.” I know that sounds strange, but it’s almost on the level of Donnie Darko’s rendition of Mad World. No lie. Actually it’s more like a more carefree, happier, parallel universe version of “Liquid Spear Waltz,” which is the main theme of that movie.
Controversy: This film is nothing but controversial! If murder, consensual pedophile sex, dead babies in plastic bags left at the dump, consensual under aged sex, 13 year old pregnancies, and abortion isn’t controversial, what is? What’s more is Palindromes makes a joke out of all of it along with it’s strong need to express itself. The latter Synecdoche New York (2008) also took on this depressing-yet-preposterously-hilarious approach, but not with the severity of these kinds of taboos. This film also reminded me of the movie Me and You and Everyone we know which came out a year later (2005), since it too put children in morbid sexual situations. Palindromes though, takes the cake.
Target audience: …I don’t know… and I’m very good with this… It’s that small. Todd Solondz alienated some fans of his older movies with this release. You have to be one “open minded” individual with this one and accept that the director isn’t making this film because he enjoys perversion. That’s an understatement. His similar themes in his other films that he continues to revisit, probably, most likely, has to do with his upbringing. I’d say only independent film goers who are interested in understanding experimental arts, or studying those corrupted since birth will enjoy this. You also need to have a solid interest in what makes you uncomfortable… very uncomfortable. We’ll “never change” if we stay within our comfort zone. If you have a satirical sense of humor that’ll work well in your favor too. I probably would almost never recommend this for anyone.
Even if you hate Palindromes, which you most likely will, a lot of notable art is known for invoking some kind of reaction in you, particularly a foreign one. I’m not saying it’s art (you’ll rarely see me slap a pointless label on something), but I’m saying it presents a different perspective worth considering even if it’s a nasty one you dislike. It’s up to you to figure out how this divergent thinking might be valuable to you, especially since it’s not spelled out. I definitely took several things away from it.
PalindromesemordnilaP: The 13 year old’s name, Aviva, is a palindrome. Even the whole film is a palindrome in how it shifts all 8 actors from it’s beginning to it’s end. You’ll even notice that Aviva encounters the same people on her adventure again, but backwards in the second half.
Aviva: I don’t think this detail gives away any of the actual story. I haven’t seen any observance of it on the net which is why I must point it out. If you enjoy figuring films out avoid this paragraph. Aviva has a very passive and adaptive personality. The scenarios are categorized by the names of different people that she encounters. As she meets each person, she herself becomes a different person by knowing them. They become a part of her. You’ll also notice that each different actor or character that portrays Aviva, fits a sort of cliche of what kind of person might be a fitting friend for her companion. This is why “Huckleberry,” the boy, is traveling alone. In the scene entitled “Aviva,” she realizes that she isn’t completely changing at all. She is still just like a chameleon, herself, Aviva.
…How do I feel?: …Man… I’m torn. I simultaneously enjoyed and disliked this film, but I’m glad I tried it out. I do wonder how nerds, the mentally ill, trailer trash, the unpopular, and those viewed as freaks get by day to day. I’d like to think that at some point all of us have been one of them. All they really are are people whose parents had no clue how to raise them. We all relate with that as the wild creations we’ve become. Growing up I most certainly had my large share of awkwardness and confusion. Unfortunately however, some people in fact will never know what it’s like.
I am not afraid of what’s being explored here, and embrace how daring it is. It brings what’s lesser thought of to the surface. The thing that frustrates me about Palindromes is that I always felt like an observer. Somehow despite it’s subject matter it can feel really impersonal. As a result the film didn’t stir up my empathy for it. On the other hand, I also get the impression that we are suppose to remain coldly on the surface of the many Avivas. That’s not how I would have done it, but that’s just me. I suppose it’s the drawback of using 8 different actors, or of focusing on a 13 year old girl who hasn’t learned how to express who she was as a person yet. Perhaps my analytic self is the problem, since I dislike only scratching the surface of a person’s psychological make up, specifically an interesting one. It’s a tease.
The fact that I had difficulty deciding whether I really liked this film or didn’t care for it shows that it’s a formidable opponent worthy of being taken seriously. At the same time, Palindromes makes fun of it’s own strange situations no matter how taboo and without hesitation. After seeing a bunch or reviews on Netflix, many completely missed all of the ironic humor throughout the whole film. It’s understandable that most will dislike making light humor of abnormally foul personal experiences, or how true to life they probably are. I, on the other hand, have hope yet for people to eventually try out different perspectives despite how unsettling. Maybe I’m being blissfully ignorant. I can’t tell if Todd Solondz disagrees with me or if it’s the very message of the film, but I believe that people can indeed change, as well as stay true to themselves.