Monday, June 18, 2012

Dark Horse

In his New York Times review A. O. Scott compared the character of Abe (Justin Gelber) in Todd Solondz’s Dark Horse to Willy Loman. Actually a better comparison might be Strindberg and characters like Miss Julie who are trapped by everything they are biologically, sociologically and morphologically. The title of the movie comes from Abe’s position in his family. Still in his 30’s he’s an overweight college dropout who lives at home and works in the family business. His father Jackie (Christopher Walken) is a narcoleptic suburban realtor who is constantly demanding spread sheets. One long shot of Jackie going over rent rolls with his visionless mercantilism paints a character that is about as about as far from Gary Cooper’s portrait of the architect Howard Roark in The Fountainhead as it’s possible to get. Abe’s mother Phyllis (Mia Farrow) preens over him and apologizes for his ineptitude while offering a rather dire prognosis of his prospects. His older brother Richard (Justin Bartha) is a successful doctor in a competitive Jewish family—in other words everything he is not. Richard is gay and Abe blames his brother for having abandoned him ten years before for having gone off to Fire Island instead of accompanying him on a cross country trip. Solondz’s family is garish, but there is also a tenderness to the portrayal. Abe is trapped in himself and the victim of a confluence of factors that transcend just bourgeois values. There are all kinds of brilliant touches in the film. One of Abe’s first lines to Miranda (Selma Blair), the catatonic woman he proposes to after one date, is “I never dance. It’s not my thing.” It’s all down hill from there. “I want to want you,” she tells him later in the movie. “That’s enough for me,” Abe enthusiastically responds. Abe’s signature vehicle a Hummer and he gets into a fight in a store, whose Toys "R"Us logo is intentionally blurred (one would suppose that the toy chain didn’t want their logo associated with the production), when he tries to return a scratched action figure. As Abe’s life finally implodes entirely, the movie turns from Strindbergian determinism to Walter Mitty like fantasy. Dark Horse is a mess that gives a new meaning to the word mordant, but outrageously funny too. One wouldn’t be surprised to find Solondz transforming the scene of Oedipus with his eyes plucked out into a sequel to Animal House. Tragedy turned to farce. That’s the unique and sometimes frigid sensibility at work.

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