Dawn Weiner is Dead! Long Live Dawn Weiner!

Spent the day with MrStinky in Fanta Se: good work, good food, good flicks, good day. Culminated with Todd Solondz' latest -- Palindromes -- which finally landed in the enchanted land this week.

Most folks seem to run real hot or real cold with Solondz. As with most cinematic provacateurs (Solondz, LaBute, VonTrier, Lee, Waters), StinkyLu runs more on the hot side; with Solondz, decidedly so, and increasingly so with each film. A brief tally of StinkyLu's response to Solondz' features: underwhelmed by Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995); enthralled by Happiness (1998); stunned by Storytelling (2001); enthralled, stunned & moved by Palindromes. Increasingly, Solondz seems really to be toying with core conventions of dramatic character & cinematic narrative. Most of the name-brand critics seem to really loathe the more recent films, typically voicing concerns that Solondz indulges an indie-film audience's sense of cultural/intellectual superiority at the expense of people in the 'burbs or the flyover states. Maybe that's a valid critique. Yet, it seems a defensive one. Perhaps the critics doth protest too much?

Palindromes follows Aviva, a miserably awkward 13 year old girl who is obsessively invested in conceiving and bearing a child, despite her disinterest in sex. Aviva's conception obsession situates her as the awkward but accomodating center of several kinds of attention: that of sexually interested males (both the adolescent & pedophilic variety) & that of adults concerned with the consequences of unplanned parenthood (whether to term or terminated).
So, clearly, a lot's going on. Adolescent sex. Pedophilia. Abortion. All with the character of Aviva at the center. Of every scene in the film.

And what Solondz does with this is pretty brilliant: Aviva is played by eight actors of divergent age, race, body type, gender, acting ability & celebrity status. This move -- possibly a stunt, possibly an experiment, who knows -- creates a compellingly cinematic version of the kind of distanciation or alienation effects so often toyed with by theater directors & actors. Most often movie artists (actors/directors/screenwriters) use cinematic bells & whistles to do the distanciation thing. Here, it's the fact of acting itself that instigates the simultaneity of intellectual AND emotional engagement: a rare thing in film. The succession of performers -- each a vivid Aviva -- prohibits either a simple mimetic identification with the char/actor OR a coherent moral/ethical assessment of the char/actor's choices.

In the event that you doubt, this ain't no schticky game. All of this is cued by Solondz's opening scene: the funeral of Dawn Weiner, the miserably awkward 13 year old girl protagonist of Welcome to the Dollhouse. Possibly the first question we hear Aviva ask is "Am I like Dawn?" And it is Dawn Weiner who haunts the film. YET -- the death of the character of Dawn, the absence of the original actor (Heather Matarazzo) who played Dawn, the return of other char/actors from Dollhouse, and the disorienting succession of Avivas -- all this creates a film where the experience of a miserably awkward 13 year old girl conveys the story but is neither a singular nor a universal experience. It's as though Solondz has found a cinematic way to let interesting (& occasionally great) actors collaborate on creating a character thus releasing that character/creation from naturalistic illusions of coherence or "superobjectives" or the like.
There is a lot to consider with this film &, even after all this, StinkyLulu ain't gonna recommend that you rush out & see this flick. It's the kind of film that'll piss most people off, especially those whose patience for incendiary experiment is thin. And there is so much here to get "politically" outraged about, but that seems oddly beside the point. Indeed, for StinkyLulu, this is the kind of movie that keeps hope alive for the intellectual future of narrative American film.
That said: tomorrow, it's time for The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants -- the summer movie StinkyLulu's been most excited about for the longest. Hey, a Lulu can't survive off intellect alone...

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