The Austin Chronicle

Dark Horse

Not rated, 86 min. Directed by Todd Solondz. Starring Jordan Gelber, Selma Blair, Christopher Walken, Mia Farrow, Justin Bartha, Aasif Mandvi, Donna Murphy.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 27, 2012

Todd Solondz’s newest probably isn't going to make anyone's list of the best date movies of 2012, but the director's claustrophobic vision of optimistic youth slowly curdling into a hellish maelstrom of middle-age malaise is still a fun ride if you enjoy that sort of thing. And, this being Austin, who doesn't, from time to time? Solondz's profoundly angsty worldview hasn't changed much since his 1995 breakthrough, Welcome to the Dollhouse. His core characters are still hapless humans tortured by their callow, emotionally stunted, opportunistic fellows, but Dark Horse, at least, shows a hint of a light at the end of life's dark and dismal tunnel. Oh, wait – never mind: That's an Amtrak Superliner.

Robustly overweight Abe (Gelber) spends his days working for his overbearing, perpetually morose father, Jackie (Walken), and his nights living at his parents’ house in his still-equipped-for-high-school-geekery bedroom. His mother (Farrow) is less of a smotherer than you'd expect, but still, it's all too apparent early on that Abe's life is a grim comedy of errors, strikes, and – lo and behold – what appears to be a sudden and improbable home run. That'd be Selma Blair's equally misfit Miranda, who Abe (ever gregarious and hopeful) meets at a wedding and haltingly scores the phone number of – in one of the film's few genuinely comic scenes. Their burgeoning relationship comes in fits and starts, and with awkward revelations galore. It's pure Solondz, including as it does both physical and psychic ailments, ex-boyfriends, a palpable dose of perpetual flop sweat, and a bleak ending that finds the absurd even unto death. Yikes.

Farrow and Walken are terrifically semicomatose as Abe's mom and dad, and Murphy – as a co-worker who takes what appears to be pity on the eternally adolescent Abe – is equally memorable. Yet Dark Horse feels like a lesser Solondz film, despite its cavalcade of misanthropy. Perhaps that’s because there's less shrillness to the proceedings than in the director's prior outings. You almost get the feeling that things might work our for poor Abe and ennui-enveloped Miranda but, well, this is a Solondz film, after all. As in real life, happy endings are hardly compulsory.

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