A few days ago, I posted a few first impressions of Todd Solondz’s Palindromes, focusing mainly on how the film skewers pro-lifers and pro-choicers. I was taking the easy road, though; it isn’t too hard to figure out how a director is directly mocking his characters, but it does take a keen mind to focus on how a director indirectly takes aim at his characters. To wit, here is a very perceptive passage on the film’s portrayal of the somewhat over-the-top pro-life “Sunshine” family, from J.R. Jones’s review in the Chicago Reader:
To some extent the Sunshines are idiots: their breakfast banquet includes heaping platters of “freedom toast,” and the kids collaborate on a Christian rock act called the Sunshine Singers, with prerecorded dance tracks to back their soaring harmonies and synchronized dance moves. Their production numbers are both funny and acutely uncomfortable: casting actors with real disabilities is nothing new, but collecting them into a horrendously tacky showbiz exercise can’t help bringing to mind Tod Browning’s 1932 circus story Freaks. I was a bit ashamed of myself for laughing — a combination of feelings that Solondz courts aggressively, though he avoids any taint of exploitation through his genuine tenderness toward the children. They’re so buoyant, so kind, and so accepting of one another that their Christianity seems worthy of celebration, and the thought of aborting any one of them, as Aviva’s mother surely would have, seems monstrous. It’s the most daring and emotionally complex joke of Solondz’s career, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
The Freaks comparison had occurred to me, of course. So had the director’s basically sympathetic approach to his cast. But it had not occurred to me that the very presence of these actors in this film might have been intended as a rebuke of those who would have preferred to snuff their lives out. Very interesting. I wonder who else this interpretation of the film will occur to.