Writer/director Todd Solondz likes characters most of us wouldn’t want to spend five minutes with, let alone 90. They are on the fringes of polite society and yet always visible in their wrongness; they dress poorly, move awkwardly, and talk strangely. In ordinary life such people are ignored. On a movie screen that becomes, as Solondz has proven over and over, impossible.
You’ve never seen a leading man like Abe (Jordan Gelber). He is 35, overweight, living with parents (Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow) that berate and mollycoddle him at the same time. And yet he has no deep resentment toward them beyond occassionally not getting his way. At times he seems quite happy to be himself. If most regressed movie people are like overgrown teenagers, Abe is more like an overgrown 5-year-old, an innocent soul with decades of underused life experience. He can function, apparently, through trial and error.
When Abe meets the dour Miranda (Selma Blair) he is smitten. But that innocence comes into play; instead of trying to get her into bed, he asks her to marry him, a leap of faith she has probably never considered. Independent movies love to match couples that seem wrong for each other but turn out perfect (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is also out this weekend, just a head’s up). There’s no hope for that here. In their present state Abe and Miranda don’t belong with anyone, let alone each other, a truth Solondz acknowledges but refuses to accept completely.
After building this relationship in its misshapen form, Solondz pulls the rug out, cursing Abe in a way he may or may not deserve. While Dark Horse wasn’t the best film I saw at last year’s TIFF, its final act gave me the most pause. I’ve concluded I may never come to a conclusion, and that’s the way Solondz wants it. He is one of few filmmakers willing to leave characters, not plot points, open-ended. A collection of arguments about Abe from average viewers would be fascinating.
Dark Horse isn’t particularly entertaining, even by Solondz standards, but it cuts deep. Over time he has learned to temper his dark sense of humour with gentler emotions (“I love my characters!” he insists to the assurance of nobody) and less caustic jokes. Dark Horse certainly doesn’t want us to hate or mock Abe. Whether to feel sorry for him, I don’t know.
Director: Todd Solondz
Mount Pleasant Pictures, 84 minutes
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