DARK HORSE – The Review
The rotund underachiever at the center of Todd Solondz’s new film DARK HORSE is Abe (Jordan Gelber), a 40-ish man-child still living in the bedroom of his parent’s (Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken) home and in the shadow of his doctor brother (Justin Bartha). Abe passes most days at his father’s office avoiding work while trolling eBay for action figures to add to his collection. At a wedding, he meets Miranda (Selma Blair), a beautiful but depressed writer and convinces her to go out with him, after which he immediately proposes. She accepts but gives him hepatitis which puts him in a semi-coma, leading to odd dreams about a cougar co-worker (Donna Murphy).
Todd Solondz breakthrough film was WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE back in 1997, the story of sad-sack Dawn Weiner, a homely middle schooler, the lonely brunt of teen cruelty. Misfit losers have been a theme of Solondz in every film since and DARK HORSE features many of writer-director Todd Solondz’s usual fixations: despair, entanglement, and disturbing dreams. One Solondz obsession the new movie does not feature is child abuse or sexual degradation of any kind, though it may have been a more interesting film if it had. Solondz is still one of the more distinctive filmmakers out there but DARK HORSE is not one of his better films, the biggest problems being a half-baked script and the casting of the lead role.
The difference between Abe and Dawn Weiner is that while you wouldn’t want to hang out with Dawn, you at least had some sympathy for her and hope she might grow up to be well-adjusted. It’s too late for Abe. He’s just an entitled, awkward asshole. There’s a scene early where he marches angrily into a toy store to complain that the action figure he recently purchased has a scratch on it. It takes about 10 seconds before Abe’s face starts turning red with fury when he doesn’t get his way. The film may have worked if the character steadily grew from this immaturity and selfishness, but the problem is that’s how Gelber plays every scene. He’s constantly losing it which makes for a character who’s not much fun to spend 90 minutes with. Much of the problem lies with the casting of this part. Jordan Gelber has done some TV work and played “Agent #2″ in BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD and “Commuter” in TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3, but he’s in every scene of DARK HORSE and simply doesn’t have the chops to pull off this lead. He has two emotions; passive and enraged with nothing in between. There’s also too many scenes where reality is indistinguishable from fantasy. I know this is supposed to be hallucinations as the result of Abe’s illness, but I found it confusing and poorly handled. Solondz has admitted that his films aren’t for everybody and I’ve enjoyed much of his work, but I can’t really recommend DARK HORSE.
1 1/2 of 5 Stars
DARK HORSE opens in St. Louis today (8/3) at Landmark’s Tivoli Theater