By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
Abe, the protagonist of “Dark Horse,” is not the customary movie hero you root for. Privileged and petulant, he is at least as responsible for his own problems as anybody else is, despite his tendency to blame others.
Oh, and the problems are mounting. The job his father gave him is not interesting. His mother is slow to pay him the money he’s won from her at backgammon. The woman he proposed marriage to (during their first date) has turned him down. And the collectible toy he recently purchased has a scratch on it.
Actually, he seems most upset about the stupid toy. If you’ve ever seen any other films by Todd Solondz (which include “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” “Happiness” and the recent “Life During Wartime”), you already know that the idea of rooting wholeheartedly for his miserable characters is not going to be easy.
Abe is big, awkward and balding. He is in his mid-30s but lives with his parents. But he has a philosophy of life, in a way, which has to do with being considered a dark horse: Someday he’s going to surprise people, which might be one reason for his impulsive marriage proposal.
This unlikely main character is played by Jordan Gelber, lately seen on “Boardwalk Empire.” Selma Blair plays the depressed object of his affection, and she perfectly captures the sense of astonishment that anybody would be interested in her.
Like most of Solondz’s films, the casting is inspired, with Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow doing precise duty as Abe’s parents, and Justin Bartha just right as Abe’s older brother, the sibling who was always more talented, handsome and successful than his brother.
The wild-card character is an office assistant at Abe’s workplace, played by Donna Murphy in a very sly performance. The longer the movie goes on and the more she seems to pop up at very odd moments in Abe’s life, the greater the possibility that she might not actually exist.
Either that, or she’s actually the point of the whole movie. Solondz has been known to leave things open like that, although I preferred the character when she seemed flesh-and-blood.
If you are a fan of Solondz and his scalpel-like method of slicing open the human condition, you’ll see things in “Dark Horse” that will make you cringe with their unblinking accuracy.
Still, I wouldn’t recommend it as the place to begin with his work, partly because of its slippery hold on reality. Good to know the director isn’t mellowing out, however.
“Dark Horse” (2½ stars)
A new one from Todd Solondz, who wields his accurate scalpel against a forlorn group of unfortunate humans, led by a manchild of privilege (Jordan Gelber) whose proposal to a depressed woman (Selma Blair) on their first date can only lead to problems. Not Solondz’s best work, but superbly cast, as usual.
Rated: Not rated; probably R for language, subject matter.