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To put it as crudely as possible, Palindromes is about “baby killers”—and the people who kill them. And it will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with writer-director Todd Solondz’s contrarian sensibilities that he’s aligned himself with both camps. Indeed, in the film’s opening frames, he has gone so far as to kill off his own baby: Dawn Wiener, the embattled New Jersey teen at the center of Solondz’s 1995 breakthrough, Welcome to the Dollhouse, now lies in a sealed coffin, a suicide. Her niche in the director’s Hobbesian-suburban universe is quickly filled by Aviva, a 13-year-old who gets knocked up and then, unbeknownst to her, sterilized, thanks to a ruinous abortion forced on her by her mother (Ellen Barkin). Aviva, however, is eager for another child, so she runs away from home and hooks up with Mama Sunshine (Debra Monk), a twinkly Christian hen tending to a brood of disabled youths by day while, by night, her husband (Walter Bobbie) plots the murders of abortionists—crimes in which our heroine soon becomes a willing accomplice. Fans will be pleased that Solondz’s talent for leaving viewers queasily conflicted continues unabated. A couple of features ago, in Happiness, the most sympathetic character was a child molester; here it’s the pedophilic pro-life assassin played by playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis. And though Mama Sunshine’s daisy-decaled Jesus camp comes in for some parody—one charge “ran away, and she didn’t even have any legs!”—it contrasts favorably with the secular, platitude-filled life of Aviva’s mom, who likens the fetus in her daughter’s womb to “a tumor.” Only the hardiest of those fans, however, are likely to tolerate Solondz’s big coup de théâtre: casting eight actors—of widely varying looks, ages, talents, and Jennifer Jason Leigh– ness—in the role of Aviva. The director might think he’s making a point about the instability of identity; what he’s really doing is weakening our connection to his protagonist so that her picaresque journey from victim to would-be killer never smites us with its horror. Without that, Solondz’s serial provocations collapse into an overlong, half-digested jumble of ideas—which is one thing when you’re lodging yet another protest against the American suburb. It’s quite another when you’re occupying the abortion battleground, where ideas can have not just real-life consequences, but real-death ones, too. —Louis Bayard