palindromes.jpgWhen I first saw Todd Solondz's Welcome to the Dollhouse nine years ago, it felt like some kind of revolution - it was absolutely like nothing I had ever seen. Of course, I was only 15 at the time, but that fact should add, and not detract, from the film's achievement. I was young enough to still be intimately in touch with the horror and humiliation of adolescence, and I sat in the theater jaw-dropped, just completely blown over by the audacity it took for Solondz to take that kind of ickiness to its (mostly very true) extremes. It was self-assured filmmaking that knew exactly what it was doing.

That's why it crushes me to say that Todd Solondz has become a filmmaker that I simply don't care about anymore. Say what you will about the relative ups and downs of Happiness and Storytelling, but despite a few shining moments I've never again watched a Todd Solondz film and felt that the guy was really in control of his craft. His latest, Palindromes, alternates between making its ideas too easy (people are "plaindromes" because they always end up the same way they began) and being difficult for the sheer sake of being difficult ([ight actresses] X [one role] = is that really necessary?). What are we suppossed to glean in the in between?


A. O. Scott argues that Palindromes doesn't really have an in between: it's motivated by "no artistic interest beyond the limitless ugliness of humanity". Jaws are still dropping, but it seems that that there's something missing. Of course, as always, it depends on who you ask: several critics seem to think it's enough that, once again, Solondz has made something that we've never seen the likes of before.

Whether or not Solondz's moral pyrotechnics are "enough" puts the film in the crossfire of a contentious numerical debate; Palindromes carries a solid, centrist 50 on Metacritic, made up of lots of 80-and-90-something scores  - and an almost equal number of 20s and 30s. Either position lends itself to so many good critical quips that the movie feels like an afterthought - see if you can guess which of these comes from the glowing review, and which from the pan:

A) "If you want some easy laughs tonight you'd be better off curling up with some Kierkegaard."

B) "[Solondz's] films are just so conceptually grotesque that you wouldn't want to show them to anyone below the age of … I was going to write "40," but that would be too glib."

But it's less a matter of opinion - this is not one of those movies where it seems like the critics who like and the critics who hate it have seen different movies - than one of faith. Either,  you're on the Solondz bandwagon come hell or highwater, or, like me, you've sadly given up.