I am a huge fan of Todd Solondz, Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995) and Happiness (1998) being firm favourites and so I was very excited to see his latest offering. Abe (Jordan Gelber) is a thirty something man child who still lives at home, ‘works’ for his dad and collects toys. He goes to a wedding and ends up chatting at rather than to Miranda (Selma Blair) due to the fact that they are both the only ones not dancing. Miranda is beautiful and is way out of Abe’s league but she is heavily medicated and isn’t quick enough to think of a response and so Abe ends up getting Miranda’s phone number. On their first date Miranda forgets about it and turns up at the house a few hours late but Abe is tolerant and ends up proposing to her. At first she declines his offer but after speaking to her ex-boyfriend Mahmoud (Aasif Mandvi) they decide it is best for her if she gets married and settles down. So Abe and Miranda plan their new life together but fantasies and fate get in the way. So far so good you would think and the film does start out pretty good but from then on it becomes disjointed and confusing and doesn’t seem to know what it is doing which is such a shame.
The opening scene is classic Solondz with the social outcasts being the centre of the film’s attention at a typically social event, a wedding. Jordan Gelber does a great job of being irritating and dislikeable as Abe and Selma Blair is perfect as the expressionless, nonchalant Miranda. Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow seem wasted in small roles as Abe’s weak boss father and doting mother. The latter part of the film is concerned with strange fantasies that Abe has and after a car accident we are left wondering firstly what is real and secondly if any of it even happened at all. This aspect of the film is not carried out very well and I found it confusing and disappointing. I also didn’t really care for the main character and therefore lost interest as soon as the focus waned.
However, there are some beautifully observed small details in typical Solondz fashion and there are some extremely well scripted scenes. Abe’s bright yellow monstrosity of a car and his gaudy red childlike bedroom are perfectly constructed to depict the character and contrast with the neutral colours of the rest of his parent’s house and the office he works at. The opening titles are expressed in an overtly ‘bling’ font that is later seen in Abe’s name necklace, the irony being that Abe is so far removed from the world he attempts to exist in, he buys meaningless objects in an attempt to validate his life. It is these small details that add depth to the character and flawlessly depict his rather sad and pitiful existence.
The surreal parts of the film didn’t quite work but I feel that perhaps Dark Horse is a film that requires a second and maybe even a third viewing in order to really appreciate it due to its more subtle approach. There are some typical Solondz moments in Dark Horse and the dark, awkward humour remains but is not as strong or as funny as in previous works. The second half of this film really lets it down and this is no way near as strong a film as his earlier work, feeling like a diluted Solondz film. Unfortunately Dark Horse raises far too many questions and felt like quite a mediocre film.
Writer and Director: Todd Solondz
Cast: Jordan Gelber, Selma Blair, Mia Farrow, Christopher Walken
Runtime: 84 mins