Title: Dark Horse
Director: Todd Solondz
Cast: Jordan Gelber, Selma Blair, Justin Bartha, Aasif Mandvi, Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken
Todd Solondz has a knack for enduring an audience to horrendously awful characters. From the start of his career with movies like “Welcome To The Dollhouse” and “Happiness,” Todd Solondz takes the outskirts of humanity and shines an uncomfortable, yet glowing light upon them. He does the same in his new film, “Dark Horse,” a film that comments on the phenomenon of arrested development, being completely unaware how you present yourself to the world and overall finding love among middle aged people.
The film starts with our protagonist, Abe (Jordan Gelber) meeting Miranda (Selma Blair) for the first time at a wedding. They sit alone at a table as the whole wedding party dance and enjoy the reception. She looks bored as Abe tries to approach her. The outcome is what you’d think it would be, Abe is fat and oafish and Miranda is seemingly put together and beautiful. This exchange is awkward and torturous to watch but it gives a good glimpse of each of these characters. We later learn Abe and Miranda still live at home with their parents despite the fact they are in their early 40s.
Abe is an interesting character playing a somewhat adult version of Francis from “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.” He’s large, entitled, inept and embarrassing but continues to press on despite his notions of being socially awkward and unaware of it. He is coddled by his parents (Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken) as they lend him money, pay for his expensive yellow hummer and basically manage to keep him in a state of arrested development. Miranda on the other hand, is even a bigger loser than Abe. She is lost in a sea of depression and prescription pills. But still, Abe is very taken by Miranda and asks her to marry him after only knowing her for a week.
The term “Dark Horse” is used to illustrate the underdog. The one no one counts on to win the race but unexpectedly wins everything. The film “Dark Horse” is a hilarious exercise in Judd Apatow-ian malaise often times hitting high marks in awkward comedy but falls short in poignancy. This is a film that examines a nervous breakdown of characters whose worlds are crumbling and doesn’t let up in punishing them, as if Todd Solondz is playing God and Abe is Job. But as absurd as “Dark Horse” evolves, it’s punched up by its use of cheesy dance pop music with its on-the-nose sentiments about winning and confidence.
“Dark Horse” is an uneasy film but it is completely worth watching as a character study of the socially awkward and the idea of the man/child. Characters that don’t want to grow up and take on adult responsibilities but want all the benefits of being an adult without making that transition. The ideas that Abe collects “Simpsons” action figures and refuses to sell his yellow hummer when he needs money are perfect examples of this character’s failings as a man or even as a human being. It’s ultimately a hilarious tragic tale of characters that are completely unwilling to grow up and as the film puts it to “See The Truth.”