June 21, 2012
Rhapsodically pathetic, the Hummer-driving schlub at the center of the new Todd Solondz film "Dark Horse" has hit his mid-30s without realizing just how many unfortunate personality traits fight every second for dominance of his everyday life. He's hostile, privileged, an insecure narcissist, and it's not simply a Hummer he drives — it's a yellow Hummer.
Abe, played by Jordan Gelber, lives at home with his parents, played by Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow. (In a helmet-like gray toupee, Walken resembles an elongated Steve Buscemi; it's a wonderful portrayal of a businessman whose home life is a dutiful smudge.)
Abe works for his dad, though he's terrible at whatever he's supposed to be doing with spreadsheets. This man-child lives in a blur of resentments, and his broken relationship with his better-looking, more successful older brother (Justin Bartha) is stuck in adolescent sniping.
Who could devote her life to such a man as Abe? The answer lies in Solondz's elegant opening shot, a roving panoramic survey of a Jewish wedding in full swing. Abe sits at a table with Miranda, played by Selma Blair. This is the woman for him, he determines. And strangely, in the most passive-aggressive (and clearly medicated) way possible, she says what the hell, let's try it.
In a compact, wittily humiliating 84 minutes, "Dark Horse" does a smart thing: It transforms from realism into a string of dreamscapes taking place in Abe's imagination, involving the sex life of his fellow office worker (Donna Murphy, on the money) and other bittersweet fancies. Solondz's films, which include "Happiness," often torture the audience as relentlessly as Solondz's characters needle each other. They can leave you gasping for oxygen.
That's true of "Dark Horse," but without turning soft Solondz allows Abe a measure of grace amid his rage. Blair is particularly memorable as a fogged-in, delayed-reaction deadpan wonder. Her Miranda shifts into a startling new gear upon the arrival of her previous boyfriend, Mahmoud, played by Aasif Mandvi. The meeting between Abe, Miranda and Mahmoud, taking place at a nightclub, comes to a bad end. It's a Solondz film; it's a given. Abe may deserve all that comes to him, but the question of how he got this way sustains the picture, against all odds.
'Dark Horse' -- 3 stars
No MPAA rating (language)
Running time: 1:24
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