Dark Horse

{Dark Horse opens in Seattle on Friday, 8/3, and is screening at the Landmark Varsity Theatre}

Admittedly light for a Todd Solondz film, Dark Horse still employs the director’s gift of peeling back the layers of life, giving you a glimpse into all things unpleasant—whether you want to see them or not.

Abe (Jordan Gelber, who deserves an award for making a completely abysmal character somehow sympathetic) meets pretty, subdued Miranda (Selma Blair) at a wedding (man, you gotta hand it to Solondz for capturing everything that makes weddings terrible via all the drunken bump-and-grinds on the dance floor. that is a beautifully accurate opening sequence), and quickly asserts himself as the man who’s perfect for her—since she appears to be an easy target.

As he speeds away with her number in his phone, we get a glimpse of his (obviously over-compensating) giant bright yellow Humvee, and an immediate sense of how his behavior is all short-lived bravado. Particularly when it’s revealed that the 30-something Abe still lives with his parents (brilliantly played by Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken), and chooses to spend all the money he earns from working at his dad’s real estate office on action figures and film memorabilia. Abe is an id-ridden man-child headed for disaster.

Abe also struggles with being the “dark horse” of the family, playing second to his parent’s favorite, more successful son, and disappointing his parents over and over again by not taking any responsibility for his life, eschewing ambition for laziness and ease. So naturally he presses the subservient Miranda into agreeing to marry him. And she agrees, basically because she doesn’t really have anything better to do.  

As the wedding planning commences, Abe’s panic and self-doubt start to creep in by way of fantasies; most involving his dad’s secretary Marie (Donna Murphy), whose protective mom-vibe at the office is translated in his mind as a sexed-up, no-bullshit truth-teller that serves as Abe’s ego and super-ego—sometimes building him up, sometimes stripping him down.

Solondz is masterful with the score here, employing motivational pop that screams, “You can change, you can be who you wanna be” and “This is the morning you begin to take control…” which provides stark contrast to how Abe acts throughout the entire film.

For the most part, while I found Dark Horse interesting to watch, at some point it became impossible to separate fantasy from reality, and that’s where it fell apart for me. Fortunately, there’s one last, great scene at the end that saved it—and made me want to revisit the director's entire catalog.

Though this is definitely not among his best work, I do recommend it for Solondz fans, but fair warning to those unfamiliar with his work: this definitely isn’t the “feel-good movie of the year.”

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