Don't underestimate this 'Dark Horse'
A review of "Dark Horse," a Todd Solondz movie about a 30-something underachiever (Jordan Gelber).
The New York Times
'Dark Horse,' with Jordan Gelber, Selma Blair, Mia Farrow, Donna Murphy, Christopher Walken. Written and directed by Todd Solondz. 85 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Varsity.
The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.
Abe (Jordan Gelber) is a tubby underachiever in his 30s who lives with his parents, sleeping in a bedroom full of action figures, movie posters and other emblems of interminable childhood. In other words, he is, in the context of recent American cinema, not unusual. But "Dark Horse" is a Todd Solondz movie, which means, among other things, that Abe is neither a sweet Apatovian schlub nor a stoner saint. He is, instead, an emblem of loneliness and failure, whose cocoon of self-delusion and misplaced vanity is carefully dismantled by the sharp, remorseless tweezers of Solondz's sensibility.
Abe is not pleasant company. At home with his parents — a stiff, humorless dad (Christopher Walken) and a smothering mom (Mia Farrow) — he whines and rages his way through daily storms of entitled petulance. Abe works for his father, a real- estate developer, seething and daydreaming behind his computer screen while Marie, the office manager (Donna Murphy), covers for him. His courtship of Miranda (Selma Blair), a mopey young woman who also lives at home in a state of arrested, medicated quasi-adolescence, is frequently excruciating to watch because it exposes just how misplaced and bizarre his self-confidence is. What a jerk, you can't help but conclude. What a loser. Why doesn't he know it?
But Solondz brilliantly — triumphantly — turns this impression on its head, transforming what might have been an exercise in easy satirical cruelty into a tremendously moving argument for the necessity of compassion.
Can anyone love Abe? Is he worthy — or capable — of love? These are serious, life-and-death questions, and Solondz refuses to make them easy.
The title, "Dark Horse," refers to Abe's idea of himself as one of life's secret winners, preparing a glorious come-from-behind victory that will be his revenge on all the people who have dared to underestimate him.
Solondz puts Abe's fantasies of glory on screen. But the film's purpose is not to revel in Abe's disillusionment or ridicule his longings. It aims, instead, to cast a skeptical eye on the brutality and complacency of a society that ruthlessly sorts its members into winners and losers.