Todd Solondz's strange, oddly moving new film stars Jordan Gelber as Abe, a fat, mid-30-something who lives with his parents and works for his dad (Christopher Walken). Garishly uncool, he wears horrible novelty T-shirts and drives a yellow Hummer; socially inept, he alternates between suspiciously easygoing politeness and petulant rage. “Humanity is a horrible cesspool,” he mopes to mom Mia Farrow, while on the downswing.
Abe invents a romance between himself and a beautiful, overmedicated depressive, Miranda (Selma Blair, reteaming with her Storytelling director after a decade), and, in a scene emblematic of his self-delusion, proposes marriage. Shockingly, she accepts. “You're not being ironic?” she hedges. It's a valid query: Most of Solondz's scripted lines have more than one available read.
Dark Horse is a psychodrama in the literal sense: Much of it seemingly takes place in Abe's mind. It's a terrain cluttered with demons, in the form of feel-bad consumerism, fear of Muslims, sexual neuroses, hypochondria, paternal expectations, sibling competition (Abe's brother is “marriage material” in every way that Abe is not) and relationships with mother figures that are both stifling and seductive.
The origami-like narrative is precariously hinged on a trope borrowed from midcentury soap opera, but its dismantling of otherness is graceful. If “graceful” is not a word you associate with the auteur of Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness, you owe it to yourself to see what Solondz has been up to lately. Dark Horse is the most mature film of his career, and maybe the greatest. —Karina Longworth
DARK HORSE | Written and directed by Todd Solondz | Brainstorm/Vitagraph Films | Nuart