Dark Horse | Movie review
Todd Solondz makes a quietly troubling morality play.
“If I was born 100 years ago, I’d probably already be married with five kids,” says Abe (Jordan Gelber), an overweight, balding, 35-year-old shlub, to Miranda (Selma Blair), the disinterested, probably troubled Long Island woman he’s trying to woo. He’s not wrong: In the old country, they’d have married Abe off ages ago. But he’s not in the shtetl; he’s in New Jersey, living with his parents (Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken), failing in a job his father only got him out of pity. His mother won’t even pay him her debts from their backgammon wagers.
If Abe has trouble picking up on social cues, makes reckless decisions (proposing to Miranda the second time they meet) and gets too worked up over a scratched action figure he can’t return, the key to Dark Horse is understanding he’s committed no great sin. Todd Solondz is famous for milking his characters’ flaws for laughs. But as regular defender J. Hoberman never fails to note, the director was once a yeshiva student, and his best movies have the irresolvability of a Talmudic parable. Abe’s lot in life is partly his fault, partly bad luck; as Gelber’s ferocious performance conveys, what matters is that he’s nearing the edge. His only confidant is a coworker (an outstanding Donna Murphy) who’s real in some scenes, imagined in others, and whose private life may conceal hidden depths of its own. Deepening on second viewing, Dark Horse insists you look past its caricatures and see human beings. The movie lacks the scope of Happiness, but it is the director’s tersest, most troubling study of desperation.