Passive-aggressive film-maker Todd Solondz knows how to hit art house audiences below the belt and elicit laughter in the process. His fourth venture, Palindromes, is a fable of innocence whose title reflects the name of its protagonist and the odyssey she'll endure. Strangely moving at times from its depiction of its naive young teenage heroine, Aviva, a corruptible vanity undercuts a vicious anomie of Middle America.
Solondz senses the insecurities of the change from youth to early adulthood from one who is desperate to be a mother. A quick encounter with a teenage friend (Robert Agri) of the Victor family will have Aviva's mother, an over-the-top Ellen Barkin, pressuring her into an abortion. The procedure goes awry with Aviva unbeknownst of her condition and the nine-chaptered screenplay has her running away to realize her wish. The arc is more artistic than compelling as some sensitive issues appear to be addressed.
Aviva is the cousin of a depressed teenager named Dawn who is killed off derisively in the opening reel. An attempt to draw sympathy to this troubled person is made by casting numerous actors of different ages, nationality, size and sex who approach the role with similarly. The gimmick appears to be awfully clever to a point, but exceeds how much Aviva is dimmed by her plight. Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Jacket) is the oldest one who'll figure into the revelation of the film's double-stranded makeup.
An unstable trucker, Ray (Stephen Adly-Guirgis), makes Aviva feel like she is in a true relationship, but will be dumped after a rough motel encounter. This dangerous spin on Huckleberry Finn includes a chipper born-again Christian named Mama Sunshine (Debra Monk) who has adopted about a dozen children with various disabilities. A religious song by her kids amusingly pokes fun at the group essential in George W. Bush's re-election.
Solondz's temerity can nearly hit a threshold of scathing whimsy or meaningless cruelty, but it mostly comes and goes gratuitously with a kind of premature pretentiousness to it. Still, there is a starting irony that one catches onto when a dark tone collides with character expression. The result is a thought-provoking compilation of emotional under pinnings from his earlier works which impugns enslavement and sexual abuse, open to what it takes to get back in the high life again.