Movie Review - Dark Horse

Jordan Gelber and Mia Farrow (rear)
in Todd Solondz's "Dark Horse"
Todd Solondz has a particular sense of humor that most people might not appreciate. I admit that I love it. I remember meeting him back in 2004 at the Philadelphia Film Festival when he screened his film Palindromes there. I described him as the Woody Allen of New Jersey, but only because he seemed to have a temperament and even voice that reminded me of Allen. His films though could not be far from the comedic Oscar winner's. Solondz is not about the witty one-liners. His suburban satires are subtle yet brutal. He set the bar with Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995). His previous feature film Life During Wartime (2009) was the writer-director trying to recapture some of the glory that he had with his other successful film Happiness (1998) but he only managed to get further away from what made his films in the 90s so great. He simply took a character, a loser essentially, and found ways to make that character's life even worse and in doing so it was just hilarious. With Dark Horse, Solondz is able to do it again. He's managed to rise again to the high bar he set with Welcome to the Dollhouse. He's able to torture his protagonist to great effect.

Jordan Gelber stars as Abe, a 30 something guy who maybe reaching 40 who still lives at home with his parents in what might be his old childhood room. Abe works for his father's real estate company, but instead of actually doing any work, he passes it off to Marie, an executive assistant at best who's considerably older. Instead of actually doing work, he seems to spend most of his time online searching for collectible toys like Thundercats.

Somehow, Abe is invited to a wedding and while there he meets Miranda, a 30-something woman, played by Selma Blair, who also lives at home with her parents and doesn't seem to have things as together as they might appear. Abe attempts to pursue her and Miranda doesn't seem receptive but she doesn't resist all that much either.

Abe's career future and romantic future come into question. His parents are the ones that question it for the most part. Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow play Abe's mother and father. It's just funny to see Walken's growing disappointment and Farrow's fawning and doting as a mother would. Both Walken and Farrow give great performances.

The movie really belongs to Gelber that if given the chance, he could be just as great a comedic presence as Jason Alexander, Kevin James or even Louis CK, and it's not just because he's fat and balding. Gelber really possesses the material here. Despite all the things that happen to him, which become increasingly horrible, he is probably the most positive character that Solondz has ever dealt up and Gelber really delivers that, but with just the right amount of tragic.

It's great how Solondz adds to the comedy, not with big crazy set pieces, although he does have some flourishes here. Solondz can create a laugh simply with the sound of an empty can hitting the pavement. His comedy often comes with hard, awkward edits where he'll just cut somebody off mid-sentence.

He does this particularly with Aasif Mandvi (The Daily Show). This doesn't take away that Mandvi turns in a great character all by himself. He's more than the "post-Marxist cliche" that he's called. He wears purple, sits with his legs crossed and drinks a cosmo. There's also Justin Bartha who plays Abe's brother Richard who seems like he was ripped from his role in The New Normal.

Blair comes off as a version of Jane Adams' character from Happiness. Donna Murphy who plays Marie swings from being a meek secretary to a kind of Mrs. Robinson from The Graduate. Solondz uses this to mess with perception, to make the audience wonder if what Abe is perceiving is even real. This results in some great and really funny sequences. Solondz is in top form here.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated But Recommended for Mature Audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 25 mins.


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