Entertainment Movies

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Mismatched pair make dark viewing

Paul Whitington

dark horse

(Club, IFI, 84 minutes)

Director: Todd Solondz Stars: Jordan Gelber, Selma Blair, Mia Farrow, Christopher Walken

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Writer and director Todd Solondz has been peddling his unique brand of jokey misanthropy since the mid-1990s, most memorably in films like Happiness, Palindromes and the more recent Life During Wartime.

Solondz daringly mixes funereal themes like rape, murder and incest with fatalistic Jewish humour, and I suspect that his hardcore fans would be heartbroken if he were ever to hit it big at the box office.

Given Solondz's choice of subject matter, however, this seems a fairly unlikely eventuality.

By comparison with some of his earlier films, Dark Horse could be described as Solondz's sunniest effort yet.

It's a kind of elegy for losers, and is built around a wonderfully believable performance from Jordan Gelber.

He is Abe, a portly, balding, 30-something man who has somehow failed to evolve beyond teenagehood.

He lives at home with his elderly parents, Jackie (Christopher Walken) and Phyllis (Mia Farrow), and his bedroom is lined with fantasy figurines and action movie posters.

He works for his dad but seems completely incompetent, and lashes out at anyone who dares confront him.

Abe roars around in a giant canary-yellow Hummer that seems a noisy symbol of his perpetual state of tantrum, and is hopelessly inept when it comes to meeting woman.

Hope flares, however, when he encounters a pretty girl called Miranda (Selma Blair) at a wedding.

Reluctantly, almost absent-mindedly, she gives him her phone number, and Abe is over the moon.

When he calls to see her, it soon emerges that Miranda is not the happiest of bunnies.

She too lives with her parents, seems permanently sedated by medication, and is devastated by the collapse of her last relationship.

All of these alarm bells Abe completely ignores, and out of the blue he asks Miranda to marry him.

This act of impetuous romanticism will engulf both families in chaos, and exposes the cracks in Abe's brittle personality.

Solondz is a witty man, and the first half hour or so of Dark Horse is bleakly hilarious.

Gebler, Walken and Blair are excellent, as is Farrow, who acts very little these days but is still a wonderfully instinctive performer.

Solondz's film is nicely made and cleverly constructed, and concludes with a dreamy flourish worthy of Luis Bunuel.

But there's a disturbing lack of empathy behind Solondz's clever pessimism that I find profoundly off-putting.

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