OK, I'll admit it, and with no shame whatsoever: I've next to no idea what to make of Todd Solondz's Palindromes, and you know what? I doubt the filmmaker would have a problem with me owning up to it.
If you're a fan of Mr. Solondz's work, and for the most part I definitely am, then you're probably already familiar with Palindromes and its central "gimmick" -- that the main character, a young girl named Aviva who goes on a bizarre journey of discovery after being forced by her parents to have an abortion, is portrayed by 12 different actors. Some of 'em are white, some black, one's Jennifer Jason Leigh, and one's even male. Yes, weird.
But while I'm sure the filmmaker had a very good reason to use a dozen different actors to play one role, it's the gimmick itself that threatens to overwhelm the movie. We're so busy trying to figure out which "Aviva" we're looking at ... that half the plot skims by while we refer to our mental scoreboard. Say what you will about the filmmaker's earlier work (particularly Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness, and Storytelling), but at least those movies offered his uniquely disturbing ideas in a somewhat cohesive manner. Palindromes, by comparison, seems like it was made intentionally oblique, overtly "artsy," and perhaps a bit more esoteric than the audience might appreciate. But hey, a film is the director's baby, and I'm just one guy trying to decipher all the weirdness.
But therein lies the most appealing thing about Palindromes; like its title the movie can be played front-to-back or back-to-front -- and it'd probably make the same amount of sense. Palindromes is often unique, intermittently challenging, and occasionally frustrating. Several of the stops along Aviva's journey seem planted in there solely to cause an audience reaction, and not to advance the paper-thin "plot" structure.
It's a movie obsessed with the concept of abortion, yet Mr. Solondz never once tips his hand as to how he actually feels about the issue. Some might throw their hands up in aggravation at this approach, but I find it pretty refreshing when a director will grab you with an incendiary approach, confuse the shit out of you, and then walk out the door, leaving you to ponder what the heck it all means. One suspects that Palindromes would work well with repeat viewings, but you'd have to let me know if that's the case. One visit with this bleak little flick is all I need, but (to be fair) I'm glad I gave it a shot.
Even if I still don't really know what I just watched.
Video: The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer is pretty sterling, although you might mistake the flick's semi-bleached palette as a knock on the picture quality. It was shot that way.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0. Not much comment here, aside from that you'll get good sound, as this is a movie that's all chatter and a few tunes.
Extras: Just the original theatrical trailer.
So mystified was I by Palindromes that I almost sent it off to a different reviewer just to be rid of the responsibility. But I'm no wimp, and while I don't think that Palindromes is as challenging or as insightful as its director might think, it definitely makes for some interesting viewing ... especially if you think you "know" Todd Solondz from his earlier films. Recommended for fans of the director, but a Rent It for anybody else.