Palindromes read the same way backward and forward, and Todd Solondz' sour tale ends where it begins. That's circular rather than palindromic, but why quibble — it's a mean-spirited and obvious excuse to wallow in physical and moral ugliness no matter how you look at it. And were it not for the casting gimmick — two adult women, four teenage girls and one girlish boy, all of various shapes, sizes and colors, play the same put-upon, 12-year-old — the film would be nothing more than a pallid retread of the Marquis de Sade's Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue. The travails of little Aviva Victor (6-year-old Emani Sledge) begin at the funeral of her unloved cousin, Dawn Wiener. Aviva fears that she's somehow like the suicidal Dawn, though her mother (Ellen Barkin), assures her she isn't. A few years later, 12-year-old Aviva (Valerie Shusterov), possessed by baby love, becomes pregnant. Her mother bullies her into an abortion which, unbeknownst to Aviva (Hannah Freiman) goes badly. Aviva (Rachel Corr) runs away and, after a predatory truck driver (playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis) abandons her at a roadside motel, she (Will Denton) climbs into a child's toy boat, floats dreamily down a brook and is found on the shore. Another edition of Aviva (Sharon Wilkins) is taken in by Christian crusader Mama Sunshine (Debra Monk) and her husband (Walter Bobbie), who've opened their hearts and homes to a throng of special-needs children while helping plot the murder of abortionists. From the cruel joke of killing off Dawn Weiner, the maladroit protagonist of Solondz' WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE, before the opening scene to the broad jabs at hypocritical middle-class parents and murderous pro-lifers, this vexing provocation is a tediously repetitive exercise in cheap epater le bourgeois outrages. Good-hearted Aviva greets the world with optimistic openness and is repaid with physical and emotional brutality, eventually responding to its monstrosity by becoming monstrous. Few filmmakers can rival Solondz' willingness to charge in where others fear to tread. But you have to wonder why he bothered dragging a tabula rasa like Aviva through a bleak landscape of suicide, murder, pedophilia and sociopathic selfishness just so her cousin, accused child molester Mark (Matthew Faber, reprising his DOLLHOUSE role), can tell her that no matter how we change superficially, we stay the same under the skin. Even for a thin, curdled fable like this one, that's a half-hearted excuse for a moral.
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- Released: 2005
- Rating: R
- Review: Palindromes read the same way backward and forward, and Todd Solondz' sour tale ends where it begins. That's circular rather than palindromic, but why quibble — it's a mean-spirited and obvious excuse to wallow in physical and moral ugliness no matter how… (more)