New Todd Solondz film is supremely dark and disturbing suburbia satire
Todd Solondz’s seventh feature is his most fully realised and mature film (in cinematic terms, if not subject matter) to date. It might not boast the jaw-dropping subversive outrageousness of his most (in)famous film, the paedophile-com Happiness, but Dark Horse certainly lives up to its title. What, initially, seems to be a geek romance in which Solondz softens his distinctive barbed brand of humour plays out as a typically wicked and unforgiving - and laugh-out-loud hilarious - commentary on the sad stupidity and unremittingly pathetic nature of humankind (at least those denizens of the North American suburbs).
The central character in Dark Horse is one of Solondz’s most memorable creations yet, a monstrous man-child named Abe, who’s reminiscent of Ignatius J Reilly from John Kennedy Toole’s novel A Confederacy of Dunces and who’s horribly well-played by Jordan Gelber. Well into his thirties, the hulking babe still lives at home with his ageing parents, doting mum Phyllis and disgusted pop Jackie (Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken, both marvelous). Abe enjoys an executive position at his father’s business, emotionally abuses both parents terribly and spends his leisure time collecting sci-fi and fantasy film and TV toy tie-ins. Things look like they’re going to change in a good way for Abe when he meets and begins dating a woman named Miranda (Selma Blair) whom he meets at a wedding and who also turns out to be dysfunctional and thus a good match. The prospect of a proper adult life, however, tosses Abe into a series of imagined encounters with fantasy versions of the people around him – his mother, estranged brother, father’s secretary - all of whom tell it to Abe like it is: that he’s a child and a loser.
It’s this section of the film, in which Abe is, essentially, arguing with himself, that provides the most enjoyably acute humour. The ineluctable way in which Abe’s crappy life unravels is quite tragic, but Solondz isn’t in the business of compassion and sentimentality. Instead, he dwells at good comic length on how his protagonist’s puerile immaturity becomes his inevitable downfall. And yet, there’s something ultimately moving as well as funny in Abe’s conflict with himself. It gives Dark Horse a degree of dramatic weight missing from his other films.
Selected release from Fri 29 Jun.