Directed by Todd Solondz, starring Rachel Corr, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hannah Freiman, Valerie Shusterov, Emiani Sledge, Will Denton, Sharon Wilkins, Shana Levine, Ellen Barkin, Deborah Monk, Stephen Adly-Guirgis, Mathew Faber and Alexander Brickle.
Returning to gleefully pick at the scabs of suburban America, few but director Todd Solondz would choose to weave a 'fairytale' around an issue such as abortion. The work of Solondz has always displayed a disturbingly consistent fascination with the darkest aspects of human life and he finds no shortage of material in this most divisive of issues.
A sequel of sorts to 'Welcome to the Dollhouse', 'Palindromes' opens with the funeral of Dawn from the earlier movie, who we learn has committed suicide. We are then introduced to Dawn's cousin Aviva who, upon learning of her cousin's death, tells her mother she wants lots of children, because then "you will always have someone to love you".
Following an encounter with the teenage son of a family friend, 12-year-old Aviva succeeds in her ambition to become pregnant. Her mother, played by Ellen Barkin, forces her tearful daughter to have an abortion, telling Aviva to think of her child as little more than a "tumour" that can be easily removed.
Awaking from the operation, her parents decline to tell her that she has had a hysterectomy as a result of a botched procedure. And so Aviva runs away, determined to conceive a child that, unknown to her, she can no longer have.
Solondz recruits no less than eight actors, of varying age, size and race to portray the character of Aviva; it is a blunt tactic that attempts to prevent this story from being perceived as unique to this girl's circumstances. As one of the few constants in the film Barkin is excellent as the strident 'no choice' mom, demanding an abortion for the good of her child.
Deliberate provocation is this director’s strongest suit, and there is no shortage of scenes specifically designed to make the viewer uncomfortable. Solondz does not pander to the beliefs of either the pro-life or pro-choice camps and ensures there is something here to offend everyone.
Divided into chapters, with the lead actress changing each time, 'Palindromes' is deliberately disorientating and frustratingly uneven. Sharon Wilkins plays Aviva as an obese black woman in one of the more compelling segments. As in many fairytales she finds a house in the middle of the woods, populated by Mama Sunshine (Monk) and her Sunshine kids - a troupe of physically and mentally disabled children – who tour the midwest singing songs with titles such as 'Every Child Has the Right to be Born' in the style of NSYNC. Their 'Brady Bunch' style banter and exaggerated dance moves are clearly ridiculous and Solondz brazenly dares his audience to laugh.
Like the name of the lead character, the film ends where it began, the director's resolutely bleak outlook refusing to allow the characters to learn any lessons, save the realisation that life is indeed awful.
Notions of entertainment aside, Solondz has fearlessly tackled an issue many steer clear of, although his unwillingness to pass judgement on any of his characters (an admirable quality in his earlier work) means the message of this movie (if any) is unclear. As a prompt to inspire debate amongst his audience it is more successful, and as such is worthy viewing.