Right to Strife

Both sides now: Todd Solondz's Palindromes agitates pro-life and pro-choice camps alike

In the case of Palindromes, check yourself or you could be laughing at a girl with no arms, a blind albino kid, or any other Sunshine Singer blithely belting, "Every child has a right to be born!" On this matter, the director is emphatic: "I knew just how much pride they took in these performances. And yet, you do step back and say, 'Oh my God! What are they singing?' People have discomfort. Like, you can't have this kind of frivolity or fun when you've got kids with disabilities. It's a no-no. But why?" Unfortunately, his game seems off when it comes to writing these "freedom toast"-eating Christians. But Solondz insists he doesn't mock. Not even when the matriarch exclaims to his largest Aviva, "You look like you could use a home-cooked meal." "That's not a disability issue," says Solondz. "You're dealing with a 'woman of weight.' I can see how people would be sensitive to that. But there's a line to me. You can see this Gulliver figure—but to Mama Sunshine it's just another child who's hungry and tired. In fact she does need it.

"Coming from a liberal Northeastern sector, it's very easy to reduce people to cutouts," he continues, "but the Sunshines are a real family. It's a kind of paradise." The Livingston, New Jersey, native is curious about how red-state pro-lifers might respond to Palindromes but acknowledges, "Festival audiences are usually about 101 percent liberal." Following a pattern of keeping his own audience in the satirical crosshairs, he grants the Ellen Barkin character less sympathy. Says Solondz, "She's a secular liberal mother, anti-war, pro-gay rights. And yet when she's confronted with this nightmare of her daughter coming home pregnant, she doesn't handle it correctly.

"We live in a culture of hysteria."
photo: Robin Holland
"We live in a culture of hysteria."

"If I had grown up in Kansas or one of these places," he says, "I don't think I'd be on this side of the coin." Solondz bridles at sanctimonious festival fare. Regarding Vera Drake, he muses, "I mean, would it have been a sin for her to be paid for a job well-done? It's saying we're all martyrs for the cause." For his part, Solondz says, "I'm not out to say humanity is bad. I'm just not out to tell you how great you are."

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