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Predictable Pattern Of 'Palindromes'

By Nelson Pressley
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, April 15, 2005; Page C05

A moment of silence, please, for Dawn Wiener, the ridiculed and hassled preteen protagonist of Todd Solondz's 1995 "Welcome to the Dollhouse." Dawn, we learn at the beginning of Solondz's new movie, "Palindromes," has gone to a better place -- or better, one hopes, than the loveless suburban world of Todd Solondz movies.

Aviva is the palindromic name of Solondz's new ingenue, and she's played by a rainbow coalition of eight actresses including amateurish teens and Jennifer Jason Leigh. But it doesn't really matter who plays the 13-year-old Aviva: Inside, she doesn't change, because backward and forward, people are always the same, poor schmucks.

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Aviva wants to learn from Dawn's sad tale, but somehow the lesson she draws is that if she has lots of babies, she'll always have someone to love. A sordid odyssey ensues: She gets pregnant, is marched by her furious mother (Ellen Barkin, dutifully inflating the role to gargoylelike dimensions) to the abortion clinic, hitches a ride with a degenerate trucker (playwright Stephen Adly-Guirgis, looking guilty as sin), and ends up in a home for misfit boys and girls run by zealous evangelicals. Go backward through the plot points in that sentence, and you'll get an idea of how the movie comes out.

It's the kind of warped Americana that John Waters makes funny. Solondz only manages a vague irony as he fixates and broods, returning again and again to his gallery of bullies, pedophiles and creeps . . . always the same.

Palindromes is 100 minutes long and showing at 9 tonight at the Avalon.

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