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Being someone who has seen most of Todd Solonz's movies, you know what
to expect from him. And you won't get disappointed. I had the
opportunity to watch the Middle East premiere of Dark Horse at the Abu
Dhabi Film Festival. It was an even bigger experience to have Todd
present during the screening, and give it an introduction as a 'sad
comedy, where it's up to you to laugh or not'. I don't know how big an
impact this particular statement had on my state of mind throughout the
movie, but I cant help mentioning the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed
The story revolves around Abe, a thirty-something who works for his father, pampered by an extremely loving mother, having a highly accomplished doctor as his brother, and having a passion for collecting toys. When he meets Miranda, a strangely damaged soul going through some serious depression, he begins to think of getting out of his desperation by having her as a partner. They eventually enter into a seriously unstable relationship, where you even begin to question whether there really existed any element of a relationship between them.
The beauty of the movie lies in the director trying to portray the dark side of the unstable mind, through imagery. One of the scenes which really got to me is where Abe is supposedly in a toy store, demanding a refund for his fiancé whom he wants to return, insisting that he has a receipt which as the store staff points out has its date smudged out. Even though this scene is a figment of his fantasy, it really goes to show how Abe perceives things in life. A few other incidents involving the unseen affection Marie (secretary to Abe's father) has towards Abe, and Miranda's ex-boyfriend Mahmoud, all seemed to perfectly blend into the movie.
Needless to say, Christopher Walken played a strong part as Abe's father, so did all the other characters including Selma Blair as Miranda. However a big part of the movie's success lies in the solid performance by Jordan Gelber as Abe, who i felt was just apt for the role and did total justice to it.
Final verdict: A story involving a dysfunctional (or perhaps semi- functional) family, two out-of-the-normal characters and their seemingly unstable relationship, brilliantly presented in the form of a comedy - which makes you laugh and at the same time think about the appropriateness of laughing. Entertaining, and thought-provoking.
Director Todd Solondz returns to the land of melancholy with "Dark
Horse," his latest serio-comic look at some of life's semi-lovable
losers. I say "semi-lovable" because Solondz's characters often contain
a dark streak of 'nasty' inside them, and this nastiness often
manifests itself in disturbing ways.
Such is the case with Abe (Jordan Gelber,) a thirty-something man-child still living in the action-figure-adorned bedroom of his parents' home. Abe, who passes most days at his father's office avoiding work while trolling eBay for collectibles, finds himself at a wedding seated next to Miranda, an equally socially-awkward and very possibly damaged woman (Selma Blair.) After one date, Abe proposes to Miranda. Her rationale for accepting his proposal is the funniest and most depressing scene in the film. You find yourself laughing, and then quickly wondering how many people end up getting married for EXACTLY the same reasons as Miranda, without readily admitting it.
Abe's troubles mount as he finds himself having to deal with the ramifications of his rash decision. His parents (the marvelously restrained Christopher Walken and the equally marvelously restrained Mia Farrow) may be the original source of his troubles. His father constantly compares him to his more successful brother. His mother just wants him to accept his perennial-loser status, but she does it in the most kind and loving way.
None of this excuses Abe's selfishness and irrational sense of entitlement. Abe's doubts about his actions take the form of imaginary meetings and conversations with the people frustrating him in his life. (The narrative does get a bit muddled here.) His self-centeredness has devastating consequences, for others, but ultimately for himself. This 'dark horse' is not going to surprise us with a win.
Solondz leads this "Horse" well, but he can't make it drink. He doesn't disappoint, but he doesn't really surprise us either. The performances are uniformly fine. Gelber in particular does a good job of walking the tightrope of character between genuinely unpleasant and sadly unaware. Blair gets credit for playing Miranda as something other than a carbon copy or even a reverse negative image of Abe. Miranda is sadly aware of the pathetic nature of her life, and her bluntness in dealing with it is refreshing.
"Dark Horse" won't have you rolling in the aisles. You'll smile some, chuckle once or twice, and wince a lot. Standard Solondz, but that's better than most.
Greetings again from the darkness. Todd Solondz is the master of film
uncomfortableness. If you have seen his "Happiness", you won't debate
whether that's a real word or not. Mr. Solondz has a way of finding the
worst in his characters and then taking it even darker and more
negative. And yet, somehow, his latest (and maybe his simplest film to
date) could be called a comedy.
We are first introduced to Abe (Jordan Gelber) and Miranda (Selma Blair) as they share a table at a wedding, yet somehow aren't remotely together. He is oblivious to her near silent attempts to nicely avoid providing her phone number to him. The film moves quickly to provide proof that Abe is the epitome of arrested development. A mid-thirties something who not only "works" for his dad, but still lives with his parents (Mia Farrow, Christopher Walken)in a bedroom decorated with action figures. It's difficult to look at someone who takes up as much space as Abe and categorize them as a kid, so I believe the better term is "not an adult". He stalks Miranda and doesn't seem to mind/notice that she is a heavily medicated depressed individual who looks at him like he's a circus act.
Abe's work environment is no better than his personal life. He brings nothing of value to his dad's company, yet somehow thinks he is always being mistreated. This carries over to his feelings toward his brother Richard (Justin Bartha), who is a doctor. Abe, who dropped out of college, believes the only difference is that Richard was the favorite son and received special privileges. It's very easy to label Abe a "loser", but somehow Solondz manages to maintain our interest with small sparks of hope.
The hope quickly fades and Abe's life heads on a fast downward spiral. There are some bizarre fantasy/dream sequences that involve the quiet, much older co-worker Marie (Donna Murphy), and a conversation in the car with his mother and brother that plays like something directly out of a Woody Allen movie (made even creepier with the presence of Mia Farrow).
There are some funny moments, but as Mr. Solondz would prefer, the laughs are tainted with guilt. We can't help but wonder why we laugh at a guy for whom we have such little respect ... actually bordering on disgust. I must admit to being pretty tired of Abe by the end of the movie, and couldn't help wondering if it might have been more effective as a short film. Still, the acting was superb, and unfortunately Abe isn't that much of a stretch from someone you probably know in real life. (www.moviereviewsfromthedark.wordpress.com)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sometimes I see a movie that I really enjoy, and then I have to stop
and wonder what "normal" people would think about it? Here is one such
film. Relentlessly observant, sardonically hilarious, and ultimately
kind of tragic, this movie demonstrates that irony sometimes reveals
the truth better than sincerity.
The plot of "Dark Horse" involves a childish thirty-something toy- collector who lives with his family and works for his father's company. He finds love -- or something which is close enough for him -- in a quiet, depressed, over-medicated, sullen woman he meets at a friend's wedding. Full of unrealistic notions and childish bravado, he can't help but propose to her on their first date. Unexpectedly, she accepts -- not, as is later revealed, because she loves him -- but rather, because she kind of hates herself, and derives some kind of masochistic pleasure out of the idea of living with this man and having his children!
Yes, this is extremely dark territory, but it's rich in ironic humor and the sting of truth. In fact, I'm not sure which is the richer moment -- her confession, or his unbelievably clueless reaction to it.
In all, "Dark Horse" is a very good film that many people simply will not enjoy. If you've seen any of the other works of Todd Solondz ("Welcome to the Dollhouse," "Storytelling"), you will understand why.
Solondz's films are ironically funny, quietly tragic examinations of people who don't quite understand themselves or the world around them. His characters often find themselves adrift in life, lost on the road to happiness, looking for whatever promise or hope they might find -- often to sadly comical effect. His films might make you laugh, make you squirm uncomfortably, give you the chills that come with seeing something truthful revealed, or all three at once. His films are ironic exaggerations of the world around us -- holding up an unflattering funhouse mirror to the faults and vanities that we all live with and try to hide or deny.
"Dark Horse" certainly isn't territory for those looking for a quick escapist flick, but for those looking for something richer, something darker, something ironic and funny but also truthful -- well, this film hits that spot quite well.
"You should just face the truth." (Abe) "What is the truth?" (Mom)
"That we're all terrible people!"
I like quirky with the best of them, but Dark Horse is not at all as entertaining as director Todd Solondz's Welcome to the Dollhouse and too depressing to promise a dedicated audience of nerds who usually require at least entertaining fare.
This story of an overweight loser, Abe Jordan Gelber (in schlubby Kevin James mode), is so negative that identifying with him is a difficult task for any audience member. Upon meeting another family "dark horse," Abe asks Miranda (Selma Blair) to marry him, as uncool und untimely a request as could be possible.
Yet, these two are soul mates, awkward outsiders with enough hang-ups to people a whole other dysfunctional drama: He collects Simpson's memorabilia and she sports hepatitis b. I just can't find anything else interesting.
Abe works for dad (Christopher Walken), is counseled for real or in dream by loving mom (Mia Farrow), and tries to tolerate his achieving brother (Justin Bartha). Solondz's direction allows intimate involvement with the two dark horses and their families, so there can be no doubt that the expected fates will be unusual to say the least.
Slow and dull, like Abe himself, the film skirts the bold satire characteristic of Solondz's previous work (he even blurs out the Toys 'R Us sign on the store, not once but twice). In the end, you have a portrait of a loser who really doesn't deserve the attention even 86 min gives him. I doubt this small film will be even a dark horse in any competition.
Todd Solondz does another movie on another socially awkward underclass.
Abe played by Jordan Gelber is an angry, self-loathing, petty slob
loser. He dropped out of college and fell into a job in his father's
company. Selma Blair is a depressed woman forced to retreat back home.
They meet at a wedding and Abe can't help but start the stalking. Selma
Blair is a broken character and she just might go with Abe even if she
doesn't love him.
The biggest problem with this movie is the Abe character. He is too angry, too petty. He has no redeeming qualities. If he wasn't so pathetic, I would be rooting for somebody to put a bullet in him. Do I care about him? Not the slightest.
Another problem is the surreal turns it takes for the last half. That kind of storyline never really works for me. And it didn't work for Dallas either.
Todd Solondz obviously doesn't like people. If he did he wouldn't give
us characters as thoroughly unlikable as Abe and Miranda, make them the
leads in his disquieting, fantasy 'rom-com' "Dark Horse" and then set
them up for our ridicule, (the 'comedy' comes from how much we laugh at
these characters rather than with them). Abe is fat, unattractive and
obnoxious with it and Jordan Gelber plays him superbly. Miranda is a
would-be beauty who has let herself go; let herself go to the extent
that she is prepared to marry Abe, a man she doesn't even like let
alone love. Selma Blair plays her as a one-dimensional loser making her
equally difficult to like. Abe lives at home with his parents,
(brilliant performances from Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow), and
works for his dad, though to be honest he doesn't do much work.
This is typical Solondz; a miserablist, myopic vision of humanity but without the brilliance that distinguished earlier pictures like "Welcome to the Dollhouse" and "Happiness". If I describe this as a 'pathetic' picture I don't mean that it's bad. It's very well written, directed and acted, (Donna Murphy is terrific as the secretary who fuels Abe's fantasies), but it's full of people you would cross town, never mind the street, to avoid and whatever handicaps you might have yourself it makes you glad you're not like anyone up there on the screen.
The plot: An obnoxious man-child attempts an ill-fated romance with an
equally broken woman, while coming to certain realizations about his
Dark Horse is not an easy movie to watch, but when have any Todd Solondz movies been easy to watch? His unflinching, brutally honest portrayals of flawed people make him popular with the indie crowd, but it's difficult to recommend his movies to anyone else. It's difficult not to identify with the parade of eternal losers of Solondz's movies, no matter how flawed they are, because, really, these people are us. We might try to deny it, of course, but the truth of the matter is that his movies are just too uncomfortably real for many people to enjoy. You might not be an awkward, depressed girl or an obnoxious, entitled man-child, but there's probably some aspect that you can relate to. If not, then you probably know someone like this. Solondz knows who we are, and he knows our society.
Dark Horse continues a rather surreal and artistic direction for Solondz. Fantasy, dreams, and reality all freely intermix. It might leave some audiences a bit confused, but it's usually pretty obvious which are which. In fact, I really enjoyed some of these scenes, because they opened the door to really inventive narrative and metaphor. In some ways, it was like David Lynch, but without the free-form stream-of-consciousness. These scenes really illustrate the characters better than any traditional scene could. The hilariously banal conversations are another nice touch. Anyone who appreciates irony will certainly enjoy them, though the irony-impaired, I think, will possibly hate this movie.
Solondz's characters have arguably never before been so depressed, bitter, and broken. If you're looking for an uplifting story, full of inspirational and likable characters, this is not the movie for you. Solondz is the undisputed master of strangely sympathetic portraits of society's biggest losers and weirdos. This one will hit pretty close to home for many geeks.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Why does Tod Solondz remind me of the great Jewish short story writers from Sforim to Singer? He has always been a truth teller. He is never dismayed by people who dislike happy endings, the "dark" side of human behavior, or seeing people with whom they identify ethnically or politically being pathetic failures, and/or victims of inadequate loved ones. His parents' love for Abe is sincere, but he has always been the "dark horse" of the family. Of course he therefore resents his parents and brothers, and sees the world as needing to fulfill his sense of justice, i.e., pamper him, as his parents have unintentionally done. His girlfriend's pal Mahmoud really straightens him out on this, telling him everyone has a "receipt," but it's what you do with it that matters. Abe can whine, but cannot assert himself. Unfortunately for him, it would take a god to show Miranda that anyone could care for her. She's the mirror image of Abe, as passive as a beach ball and as self-contained as a robot. The excess of fantasy in this film in necessary--as it is for many Americans now. The ending is stunning, because inevitable.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"I busted a mirror and got seven years bad luck. My lawyer says he can
get me five." - Steve Wright
"Dark Horse" is another depressing film from writer/director Todd Solondz. The plot? Jordan Gelber plays Abe, an overweight man who lives with his parents and works for his father. Stuck in arrested development, Abe collects toys, struggles to date women and uses fancy jewellery and expensive cars to help foster, for himself, the illusion that he may one day "grow up" and "be someone". In this regard Abe sees himself as a dark horse; someone who will one day overcome suffering and set backs to find eventual happiness. The truth, of course, is that these beliefs are defence mechanisms which Abe uses to protect himself from reality. What is this reality? Abe's life has always been one of unhappiness/suffering, and is likely to always be one of unhappiness/suffering. Solondz then asks his audience this: should Abe give up on hope? Should Abe give up on life? Can people change and/or escape themselves?
If you've seen Solondz's other films, you already know the answers. It's all very grim.
Mirrored to Abe is Miranda (Selma Blair), the young woman from Solondz's "Storytelling". She's a failed writer with a disease and suicidal tendencies. Like Abe, she's given up on life. Both Abe and Miranda are avatars of Solondz, people he at one point feared he might himself become. The film then ends with Abe - always unlucky dying due to a ridiculous series of freak events. People quickly forget about him, with the exception of a lonely co-worker, another dark horse who privately hopes whilst quietly suffering.
Most who view the film react with hostility toward Abe. His suffering is "all his fault", he "is a jerk", he should "man up", "grow up" and stop being a "fat, rude loser". Others spin ridiculous theories: "Abe is a victim of a collapsed housing market", "Abe is suffering financial problems" etc. Why has Abe's life really gone off the tracks? Solondz provides clues (divorce, over sensitivity, inferiority complexes, hair-loss, weight problems, low self esteem, sense of entitlement etc), but the point is that it doesn't matter. With "Palindromes" Solondz already expressed a firm stance: blaming the victim for being unable to escape traps solely because others may have escaped similar traps is a fallacy rooted in a very specific type of optimism. For Solondz, destiny is always fixed, Abe's demise should be treated as a priori and Abe doesn't triumph simply because Abe does not triumph. Anyone in his exact situation would have met the same fate. It is not his fault. It is simply a slow, inexorable inevitability. Forces social, familial, genetic, psychological, emotional, whatever are at work here which require huge counter forces to escape. Can Abe muster the energy necessary to escape? He thinks he can, he comes close at times, he maintains throughout much of the film a fiery, heated sense of optimism. But there's only so much he can take, and in the end the universe wins.
The film ends with the reminisces of one of Abe's co-workers. The intention here is to share her moment of grief. To mourn, with her, the passing of Abe, and of course to empathise with her own exclusion. But Solondz can't quite handle the moment. The film's too ironic, too knowing, too smug, to capture the emotional waves which Solondz wants us to ride. It may be a psychologically accurate film, but it's also one which is caustic and depressing rather than sad and touching.
Abe's parents are played by Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow. Farrow gets the film's best scene, in which she consoles her son after he confesses his hatred of the world; life's repeatedly burnt him and so he harbours deep pain/resentment. The film's been compared to the work of Woody Allen and the Coen's Brothers - other directors who wallow in one-note existentialism - but Solondz is far more bleak.
8/10 Worth one viewing.
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