Cast: Ellen Barkin, Matthew Faber, Richard Masur, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Todd Solondz certainly has a way of making movies. They almost seem voyeuristic in nature as he forces us to watch characters face situations that are normally frowned upon in cinema. Issues like rape, pedophilia, and exploitation are just a few of his subjects. With "Palindromes" we are given the issue of abortion and a young girl's quest for companionship. Again, the skeletons are pulled out of the closet for all to see as Aviva takes a journey through numerous stages of life. For fans of his work, Solondz brings his raw and intense storytelling to us on DVD. Take note that "Palindromes" does reference numerous characters from "Welcome To The Dollhouse". While it isn't mandatory to view "Welcome To The Dollhouse" first, those who have seen it will have a stronger back story and more of an emotional attachment to the characters in "Palindromes".
The nice thing about a Todd Solondz film is that he doesn't rely on shock value to carry the story. Considering the subjects he deals with, it is a credit to Solondz that even the most uncomfortable scenes seem to fit in without feeling forced or out of place. During "Palindromes", we find Aviva in one painful situation after another. Though the central subject of the movie is abortion, we are given extreme situations to counteract both sides of the heated topic. "Palindromes" has its moments of dark comedy, but it never feels as 'fun' as "Citizen Ruth" when dancing around its explosive subject. While Ruth is soaking up the attention by playing sides against one another in Alexander Payne's film, Aviva is looking specifically for love and companionship. She is continually broken on a physical and emotional level by the people she comes in contact with. The mood lightens up a bit when Aviva is befriended by Mama Sunshine, but her glimmer of hope is quickly shattered as reality sets back in.
The acting in the film is purely real. There are no genuine scene stealers. There are no true stand outs. We are given great acting on a basic level. Ellen Barkin is one of the biggest names in the film as Aviva's overprotective mother Joyce. You get the feeling that Joyce is trying to do the right thing for her daughter, but her thoughts are warped by a narrow minded selfishness. As for Aviva, she is played by numerous actresses (and an actor), including Jennifer Jason Leigh in a very minor role. While at first the rotating actresses seemed like a clever way to tell a story, it is at the end of the movie that Mark Weiner (in a role reprised by Matthew Faber) gives a nice explanation for the changes. Each of the Aviva's brings a different challenge and obstacle, to a central character. They add layers to a story that could come across as fairly bland if told in a more linear setting.
The movie is given a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on DVD. While the print is relatively clean, the overall presentation is a bit dry. The subdued colors and soft look give the film a dated feel. Most of Todd Solondz movies have this drab look to them, possibly to mirror the emotions of the characters on screen. I wouldn't blame the DVD for the look, rather the source material. There was some edge enhancement, but the film was free of pixilation. I wouldn't use the DVD as reference material, but it does have a good appearance.
The two tracks that are included are Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0. While I am always a fan of a 5.1 track, with "Palindromes" there really isn't a need for one. The sound stage is rarely utilized, even by the subwoofer. The stereo track is more than sufficient for this type of drama. Sound is a shade flat as it is primarily restricted to the center channel. There is not much of a dynamic range as the sound level is pretty consistent throughout the movie. There are not a lot of surprises as the music is fairly tame.
The only bonus we get on the DVD is the inclusion of a non-anamorphic theatrical trailer for "Palindromes".
Think of it backward or forward, "Palindromes" is going to play out the same way. I love how the movie makes your skin crawl by forcing sensitive subjects and the hypocrisy of people up front and center. This is not a movie that is easy to recommend. For those who have seen movies by Todd Solondz, get ready to step back into his world of reality. I recommend everyone see "Welcome To The Dollhouse" before popping in "Palindromes". It will give newbies an opportunity to see how they will react to Solondz style as well as set them up for this unofficial sequel. Since it skipped the majority of movie theaters throughout the nation, this DVD release will give many Solondz fans their first look at his latest work of art.