Twelve-year-old Aviva wants a baby, and she’s willing to do pretty much anything to get one, whether it be a quick insemination by a teenage in-law (Robert Agri) or a motel rape from a trucker (Stephen Adly-Guirgis). Just one problem, the initial sexual encounter succeeds, but mother makes her have an abortion, it goes wrong and Aviva is forced to have a hysterectomy. Of course, our young protagonist is none the wiser and her subsequent runaway and sexual odyssey is all in vain.
Granted, Todd Solondz might not be too bothered about shocking audiences – a depressed, suicidal teenager in Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995); a paedophile psychologist in Happiness (1998); a willingly sexually abused wannabe writer in Storytelling (2001) are proof enough of this – but, he claims, the characters have always been sympathetic. With Aviva he attempts to gain this compassion by casting numerous actors of different sex, race and age in the role. While it might raise questions on the nature of character, identity and personality, it doesn’t provoke one to be moved by her plight – she’s simply painfully stupid.
After she runs away and is dumped by the trucker she believes she has started a ‘relationship’ with, Aviva finds herself welcomed into the house of Mama Sunshine (Debra Monk), a kindly Jesus freak who has adopted 12 or so kids, most of whom are disabled. Possibly one of the funniest parts of the film is watching the performance of a Jesus pop song by the gang of children. It’s a fleeting glimpse into the Solondz of old that was so scathing about the values of middle America, but it is also a guilty pleasure laughing at such a kindly group despite their fundamental religious outlook.
Matthew Faber reprises his Mark Wiener role from Welcome to the Dollhouse to sum up the film’s central point – "genes and randomness – that’s all there is and none of it matters." So Aviva arrives back into the bosom of her over-bearing parents, goes back to living her old life and still wants to get pregnant. We’re back where we’re started.
Ironic, really, that Solondz has moved on since the brilliance of Happiness to the shaky self-consciousness of Storytelling and now the smug cynicism of Palindromes. It’s fundamentally cold and tasteless – even slipping a 9/11 joke in there at one point – and is close to becoming a parody of his earlier work.