Thirteen year old suburban Aviva (eight different actors), is desperate to become a mother and tries it with a neighbourly kid, but her parents (Ellen Barkin, Richard Masur) drag her to an abortionist. Aviva runs away from home and continues to try her luck with Joe (Stephen Adly Guirgis), a truckie, but he doesn't intend to get her pregnant and foils her plans. She ends up in a remote field under a tree, where Peter Paul (Alexander Brickel) a young boy from a nearby family of evangelical Christians, finds her and takes her home to be cared for by Mama Sunshine (Debra Monk). To her surprise, Joe the truckie turns up, whose real name is Bob, and who is the amateur hit man for Mr Sunshine (Walter Bobbie) in his anti abortion crusade.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Aviva is a palindrome: it's avivA whichever way you look at it. On one level, it is symbolic of the film's circular ambitions, signifying that Aviva will always be what she is - which is ironic, given that Todd Solondz uses eight different (white, black, tall, fat, thin, short, male, female) actors for the role. But it's apt since the film doesn't get anywhere as cinema. It's a road movie set on Circular Drive.
When 13 year old Aviva's journey begins, she has tried to become pregnant and her parents have forced her to abort, not realising quite how obsessed she is with being a 'Mom'. She runs away and out in the woods one day, by a gurgling stream in middle America, she meets a little boy who takes her home, where there are other kids taking shelter.
Their afflictions range from Down Syndrome or being blind, to having no arms or suffering from epilepsy. One of the kiddies Mama Sunshine had taken under her wing and into the family home, she tells Aviva tearfully, "ran away ... and she didn't even have ... any legs..." Apparently she wanted to return to her birthplace in India, but "she didn't even make it as far as India, Tennessee..." This scene almost convinced me I was watching a Christopher Guest movie; but then it would have been funnier.
I already had my suspicions when Aviva changed into a variety of actors and actresses (each with a different prefeix, eg Dawn, Judah, Henry, Henrietta, Huckleberry), including a very large and older black girl. The feeling grew insistently as the movie progressed; the chapters are divided by pretty pink tablets, the God fearing Sunshines (Mr and Mrs Sunshine are names straight out of a Guest film) turn into anti-abortion conspirators intent on killing an abortionist doctor (called Fleischer = butcher), who aborted Aviva's foetus. Unfortunately, this serial cliché is permitted to run its course, and brings Bob (Stephen Adly Guirgis) - the truckie with whom Aviva has earlier had casual motel sex so she can conceive (but he avoids inseminating her) - into her orbit again.
By the time we get to Jennifer Jason Leigh's turn as Aviva, the continuity of the character and her story is shot to hell but luckily we no longer really care. Solondz simply pukes all over the American landscape and all its inhabitants in a nihilistic cinematic chunder.
In his notes to the film, Todd Solondz confesses he doesn't really have a cute reason for casting so many actors to portray Aviva, except that it seemed a "neat idea". I'm reminded of a Dylan Thomas interview; when he's asked what is the secret of his success, he tells the journo: "Confound the buggers!" Which, together with Solondz's previous (and better) films, may explain why the film has been invited to screen at various festivals.
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CAST: Matthew Faber, Angela Pietropinto, Bill Buell, Emani Sledge, Ellen Barkin, Valerie Sushterov, Richard Masur, Hillary B. Smith, Danton Stone, Robert Agri, Hannah Freiman, Stephen Singer, Rachel Corr, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Will Denton, Sharon Wilkins, Debra Monk, Walter Bobbie
PRODUCER: Mike S. Ryan, Derrick Tseng
DIRECTOR: Todd Solondz
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tom Richmond
EDITOR: Mollie Goldstein, Kevin Messman
MUSIC: Nathalie Larson
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dave Doernberg
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 25, 2005
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
VIDEO RELEASE: February 1, 2006
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.