Maybe it would have helped had I seen the movie with a suck up audience, the kind of Sundancy viewer that writer-director Todd Solondz pretends to mock but clearly desires their recognition. In fact all 8 of the people in attendance at the screening were silent the entire 100 minutes, except for myself, when the most cruelly ironic line is uttered.
Aviva’s first sexual experience is with a boy her age, spoiled, and claiming to be making a full length Jackass style movie, “but different.” When she sees him again in the last scene, she asks him how the movie is going, and he says, “Actually, I stopped doing it when I realized my idea sucked.”
Her response is probably Solondz speaking straight from the heart about Palindromes:
“Well it’s better than finishing it after working for two years on it, and then realizing it sucked.”
Really, whatever point Solondz was trying to make is lost behind a gaggle of terrible child actors directed to deliver their lines in an overly stiff manner. I guess this is supposed to register as irony, but since nothing that happens is funny, just remnants of shock humor from older Solondz material, but without any development, it plays as terrible child actors stiffly delivering their lines sincerely. The line between inept and irony is completely dissolved.
The gimmick of having different actresses playing the main part is not a distraction, but it serves no purpose. Is he trying to say that we are all the same on the inside, no matter what we see on the outside? Is he trying to gauge how we would react to stale political satire about the evils of the pro-life and pro-choice movements by making them both loony, screaming caricatures who resort to murder as an excuse for their beliefs, if the main character is played by a variety of ages and races, so our natural response would change? The answer is, there is no answer. He didn’t work out what he was trying to get across, so 90% of the movie just lies there flat, dead. Contrived,* smug**, and amateurish (the camerawork and the jokey, abrupt use of the score). The only true shocking moment is when a child is accidentally murdered, but Solondz just uses that to make an obvious cheap joke about how a confused pedophile doesn’t value life with a clear mind, as opposed to any real exploration of what happened.
The key to the lifelessness of the entire enterprise is in the first sex scene with Aviva and Judah. They are lying in bed, both of them aimlessly looking at the ceiling, which, along with the walls, is completely covered in pictures of naked women. He asks her if she ever thinks about sex, she says she never does, just about having children. He says, he does sometimes. The problem is, this is not the kind of kid who seems like he would have so much porn everywhere. The pictures on the walls, indiscriminately placed, seem like artificial set design, there for the shock value only, not out of any thought for realism in the characters. It is this atmosphere that pervades the film, Solondz hired a bunch of nonprofessionals who didn’t know what they were doing, and he certainly didn’t tell them, just giggled to himself when he got them to talk about sex and abortion. It’s like a boring, dirty version of Kids Say The Darndest Things.
Solondz even resorts to having to spell out everything for the audience, courtesy of the Mark Wiener character. He is given two scenes, and two speeches, first to explain the title, and next to explain the meaning of the film. Basically, nothing you do matters, you’ll never change, and whatever you start out as is how you’ll end up. I never thought that Solondz would resort to stealing from The Matrix Reloaded.
*They had to drive several states to find an abortion doctor? And he happens to be the one who botched Aviva’s? And the guy hired to kill the abortion doctor just happens to be the same guy who slept with Aviva?
**Other than what her husband is planning and she is unaware of, what exactly is wrong with the way that Mama Sunshine brings in children with health problems? I’m not religious, but giving them direction is hardly a negative thing. And how bold he is to make fun of Christian rock and boy band music! So current!