Lessons for those cool, confident, independent, young writer/directors, who hit the G-spot first time, are 1) stay simple, 2) stay focused, 3) stay away from experimentation.

After the success of his debut, Welcome To The Dollhouse, which exposed the agony of suburban life through the eyes of a bullied 11-year-old girl, Todd Solondz's next films, Happiness and Storytelling, became ever more convoluted and even the humour that gave Dollhouse its zest was so black you could hardly see it. Also, certain themes began to repeat: sex, paedophilia, hypocrisy, dysfunction.

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Palindrome: "a word, phrase or sequence that reads the same backwards as forwards" - The New Oxford Dictionary.

Does this film look the same backwards as it does forwards? The story is familiar to Solondz aficionados, as it concerns the rape of innocence, emotional blackmail, parental manipulation, sexual abuse and teenage despair. There are no jokes anymore. The picture is bleak. Even love and religion are depicted as make-believe bunny rabbit delusions. Take the second T out "truth" and you have a most fitting palindrome.

Since Solondz didn't learn the three lessons, he has to be difficult. The girl in the story is called Aviva and she is played by eight different actors (PC for actresses), two of whom are black. Sometimes she is red haired; sometime she is not; sometimes she is slim; sometimes she is obese; finally she is Jennifer Jason Leigh. Her mom (Ellen Barkin) remains the same throughout.

As a device to alienate the audience, it works perfectly. Confusion reigns for the first hour, followed by a lingering sense of unease. With the exception of a saintly matron, called Mama Sunshine (Debra Monk), who collects waifs and strays, most of whom are disabled, grownups are not to be trusted.

Paedophile: "I don't like women."

Thirteen-year-old Aviva: "What about me?"

Paedophile: "You're not a woman; you're too young."

Philip Larkin's famous line about families comes to mind; they **** you up. Solondz would appreciate that.

Reviewed on: 06 May 2005
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The strange tale of an abused teenage girl, played by a cast of eight.
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Read more Palindromes reviews:

Chris ****
Paz Newis ***1/2

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