Think back to the last time you went to a bar. Remember that guy repeatedly telling the same jokes, thinking they would be equally as funny every time? And by the fifth time you heard the same one, you were desperate to dump your beer over his clueless head? Imagine that same guy as a working filmmaker, named Todd Solondz. He made you laugh before at one joke, and will forever keep repeating it until you find it funny again; or until you make the logical decision to leave the room and rob him of his audience.
Solondz impressed critics and audiences everywhere with his edgy first film, Welcome To The Dollhouse. That story revolves around an awkward, unattractive 7th grader named Dawn, who is treated like a waste of oxygen everywhere she goes. In the opening scene of Palindromes, we learn that Dawn has put herself out of her misery. R.I.P, Wienerdog! Her family is woefully mourning her suicide, including her cousin, Aviva, who is terrified of ending up like her. Sadly for her, this is a strong possibility. She is not only similar to Dawn, but quite possibly even more pathetic.
Aviva is an insecure twelve-year-old girl with an overwhelming desire to be a mother. Her parents, Joyce (Ellen Barkin) and Steve (Richard Masur) are disgusted to find out that she has slept with a friend of the family and gotten pregnant. They force her to get an abortion, which damages her uterus, and requires her to undergo a hysterectomy. Devastated by the experience and unaware of her infertile future, she runs away, trying to find more men to sleep with and a more hospitable place to call home.
Naturally, since it’s a Solondz movie, there is a resident pedophile, Earl (Stephen Adly Guirgis), who gets involved with Aviva. He admits that he doesn’t like women much, but since she’s not a woman yet, he'll make an exception in her case. Their first sexual encounter takes place in a cheap motel, where she uncomfortably asks afterwards, “Can you still get pregnant when it goes in there?” Unable to create new interesting characters, the Wieners are brought back from Welcome To The Dollhouse, including a subplot with Dawn’s brother Mark, who has since been accused of being a child molester. Are we seeing a theme here, folks?
Aviva finds solace in a religious household run by Mama Sunshine (Debra Monk). She believes that all of God’s creatures deserve love, so she takes in those that have been ousted by society. At the dinner table, we are introduced to all of Mama Sunshine’s adopted children, including those that are retarded, deaf, epileptic, diseased, blind, etc. Every possible stereotype is present at the table, ready to pass the salt. The boy with Downs Syndrome says silly things and claps his hands while his family giggles, and the blind girl tells a disturbing tale of how she lost her sight, yet sporadically smiles during the speech. Last time I checked, making fun of the disabled is not a surefire way to win over a crowd.
The lead character, Aviva, is played by 8 different people, ranging from a gawky redhead to an obese African American woman. At one time, there is even a male playing Aviva. No rationale is offered for why Aviva seems to morph into someone else every other scene, but it succeeded in making me seasick. The title of the film is Palindromes, but there is no apparent reason given, except that the lead girl’s name happens to be one. I felt like at any point, a big walrus should have showed up and started tap-dancing to the soundtrack of "Cats", because it would have been just about as relevant as everything else in this movie.
Trying to find something positive in this film is like jumping into a public toilet and hoping to discover the Hope Diamond. While we are taught from an early age that there is beauty in everything, it’s nowhere to be found in this outrageously repulsive, incoherent, and shockingly unfunny Indie disaster. Maybe my sense of humor is too finely developed to be amused by people scouring dumpsters for aborted fetuses in Ziploc bags. Much of the film seems to exist solely to indulge Solondz's sick sexual child abuse/rape fantasies for the big screen. Inspired by Dawn's demise, he has gone on to successfully commit career suicide, and there’s nothing left for us to do but mourn.