Palindromes, nominated for the prestigious Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, has its proponents. And if I were more into condescending irony, cheap satire and provocation for the sake of provocation, I might’ve liked it, too.
Director Todd Solondz (of the considerably better Happiness) presents more than a few interesting ideas, but his execution is fatuous and littered with moments designed to flatter a hipster audience. Twelve-year-old Aviva wants to be a mother and is willing to engage in sex with almost anyone to achieve her wish. When that doesn’t work out as planned, she runs away and meets a bunch of quirky losers on similar paths. One of Solondz’s tricks is that a different girl or woman plays Aviva in every episode. Some are white; some are black. Some are small; some are large. Some are played by real teenagers, others by more mature women (Jennifer Jason Leigh, for example). Unfortunately, Solondz doesn’t do anything with this motif. In the world of Palindromes, it doesn’t really matter if someone is white or black, beautiful or ugly, so the film misses a great chance to comment on how appearances affect how people are treated.
And there are other missed opportunities. The narrative framework, which circles back on itself (like a palindrome), is clever, but it’s not much more than that. Furthermore, because the audience is meant to mock almost everyone Aviva meets, there’s no attempt at greater understanding, no desire to do anything beyond amuse. I don’t mind films that have a misanthropic streak (Lars von Trier comes to mind), but I have little use for films that don’t turn the camera back on us, instead saving our bile for the less fortunate or less “enlightened” around us.