Todd Solondz is an award winning writer and director who has brought us such classics such as Welcome To the Dollhouse, Palindromes and the highly controversial and brilliant Happiness. Solondz’s greatest is gift is giving us a slice of life drama with characters on the edge of society that we normally wouldn’t care for. This is his first film since Palindromes in 2004, so has the wait been worth it?
Dark Horse is exactly what it says in the title – a film about a dark horse, an outsider, someone who isn’t thought likely to succeed, but who may just surprise us all. The dark horse in this film is Abe (Jordan Gebler), who’s the elder son of Jackie (Christopher Walken) and still works for his father, who runs a highly successful development company. Abe is a thirtysomething, morbidly obese manchild, surviving on a diet of Diet Coke, still living in his parents’ house surrounded by all his heroes in figure or poster form, varying from Dr Who to The Simpsons to Thundercats, and shirking all personal responsibilty in pursuit of his selfish, childish dreams. In the opening scene Abe meets Miranda (Selma Blair), who is desperately trying to avoid giving him her number, but eventually gives in due to her own lack of decisiveness and his persistence.
When Abe eventually meets up with Miranda, it’s obvious she is on a high dose of medication, as she seems very sluggish and ‘out of it’ in her communication. She also has some major issues to deal with. On their first date the over enthusiastic Abe suggests that they should marry – he is obviously searching for a real connection with anyone who can see beyond his limited adult attributes.
One of the funniest scenes is where Miranda realises that she should really be giving up all ideas for the future, including hope, and should indeed marry Abe. Then, when she kisses him for the first time, she says that it wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be! This just goes to show the level of depression that Miranda is suffering from. The remainder of the film deals with their relationship and the other issues that Abe has to deal with – i.e growing up, and the relationship he has with his despairing father.
Some of the best scenes are those where Abe is interacting with his empathetic mother, played splendidly by Mia Farrow – playing a character that could easily have been portrayed by Dianne Wiest – and also with his multi-faceted co-worker Marie played by Donna Murphy.
The film however starts to lose direction when Abe begins having conversations with the characters in his head as he is having doubts about his relationship and future. These small scenes start taking over the film and initially it’s tough to work out exactly what is going on, and we unfortunately also stop caring. Once it becomes apparent what has happened, audience concentration has lapsed and the film would have played out better if the story was just told straight, rather than the method used.
Overall Verdict: Some great characters, played brilliantly by all the cast especially Walken and Farrow, but the direction of the storytelling confuses what could have been a little gem. Look out for a certain toystore, and also check out the soundtrack.
Reviewer: Stephen Sclater