317 Great Directors: Todd Solondz

“When part of what you’re trying to get at is the truth hidden under a taboo, or when you want to nail a hypocrisy, laughter is a very useful tool. I want to show the painful side of existence, but there is no question I also want to make people laugh.”

Why This Director?: Dark Horse was meh but I found it intriguing.

My Last Experience Was…: Dark Horse.

What Did I Watch: Palindromes, as I wanted to start with something really polarizing.

Where Does He Fit: Some familiarity with Welcome to the Dollhouse may have been warranted before touching upon the incredibly weird and morbid Palindromes, as it opens with Dawn from that movie committing suicide, getting a hilariously Jewish funeral, and then us spending time with a presumably adopted black girl with a name that is a palindrome who has already been taught to want to have children. Except what’s this? Some years later she has grown into a teenage white girl who wants to have a child and gets pregnant via her family friend. From there, we realize just how horrible her mom’s (Ellen Barkin) attitude towards children is in various ways teased out, from the fact that her policies on having kids have changed so entirely even when she claims to be pro-choice while sobbing post-abortion difficulties (Aviva gets a hysterectomy) that she won’t be able to have any grandchildren. Does she hear her mother?

palindromes

I can’t pretend that I’m too fond of the scene post-abortion where Aviva drags an answer out of her mother on the child’s gender (that’s not how abortions work), but everything afterwards is pretty pointed in its commentary in a way that I find both so bitter that it’s tough to swallow and really sensitive and mature. Amazing that this got made, but it wants to alienate the viewer something fierce and I guess I cannot blame the poor critical reception on people Just Not Getting It. I’ve hated plenty of mean, alienating movies, and watching someone rather waifish get raped by a truck driver who she promptly falls in love with to the most sunshiney and saccharine score ever is plenty offensive, with the use of different actors for the same character being both formally exciting and hard to swallow. To what extent does Aviva’s life change as a result of all her different experiences? What is her age during all of this-it would certainly make her mom seem crueler and the adoptive pro-life Mama Sunshine…well, you can tell what Solondz feels towards her based solely off of that name, even though Debra Monk is hands down the best in show and receives an absolutely killer monologue to bite into. The abortion debate may be the easy point of reference here, but the way we fetishize kids and the things that can happen to them is really torn into with relish and by eight baby voiced women giving remarkably similar performances.

Most Valuable Asset: Real, deep down to the bones misanthropy.
Most Excited For: His more acclaimed stuff, Welcome to the Dollhouse/Happiness.

Coming Up Next: Patrice Chereau and his all over the place works.

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