Director Todd Solondz returns to the land of melancholy with "Dark Horse," his latest serio-comic look at some of life's semi-lovable losers. I say "semi-lovable" because Solondz's characters often contain a dark streak of 'nasty' inside them, and this nastiness often manifests itself in disturbing ways.
Such is the case with Abe (Jordan Gelber,) a thirty-something man-child still living in the action-figure-adorned bedroom of his parents' home. Abe, who passes most days at his father's office avoiding work while trolling eBay for collectibles, finds himself at a wedding seated next to Miranda, an equally socially-awkward and very possibly damaged woman (Selma Blair.) After one date, Abe proposes to Miranda. Her rationale for accepting his proposal is the funniest and most depressing scene in the film. You find yourself laughing, and then quickly wondering how many people end up getting married for EXACTLY the same reasons as Miranda, without readily admitting it.
Abe's troubles mount as he finds himself having to deal with the ramifications of his rash decision. His parents (the marvelously restrained Christopher Walken and the equally marvelously restrained Mia Farrow) may be the original source of his troubles. His father constantly compares him to his more successful brother. His mother just wants him to accept his perennial-loser status, but she does it in the most kind and loving way.
None of this excuses Abe's selfishness and irrational sense of entitlement. Abe's doubts about his actions take the form of imaginary meetings and conversations with the people frustrating him in his life. (The narrative does get a bit muddled here.) His self-centeredness has devastating consequences, for others, but ultimately for himself. This 'dark horse' is not going to surprise us with a win.
Solondz leads this "Horse" well, but he can't make it drink. He doesn't disappoint, but he doesn't really surprise us either. The performances are uniformly fine. Gelber in particular does a good job of walking the tightrope of character between genuinely unpleasant and sadly unaware. Blair gets credit for playing Miranda as something other than a carbon copy or even a reverse negative image of Abe. Miranda is sadly aware of the pathetic nature of her life, and her bluntness in dealing with it is refreshing.
"Dark Horse" won't have you rolling in the aisles. You'll smile some, chuckle once or twice, and wince a lot. Standard Solondz, but that's better than most.