'Dark Horse' is another Solondz squirm-a-thon

  • Article by: Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 27, 2012 - 10:31 AM

REVIEW: Hard-core oddballs wander into awful situations and awkward romances in new dark comedy by Todd Solondz.

Todd Solondz, the dean of depressive comedy, is back with another funny, shocking, emotionally probing original.

Boy -- or at least obtuse 35-year-old -- meets girl at a wedding. Days later, Abe proposes on their first date, and Miranda is too depressive and overmedicated to resist. Soon he's planning to move her into his room at his parents' house, despite the fact that Dad is about to kick him out and end his do-nothing job at the family firm.

Where can all this be going? As followers of Solondz's work expect, the film is cast with quirky oddballs. Selma Blair plays the wan Miranda like a grown-up Wednesday Addams, Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow mine rich veins of weirdness as Abe's parents. Tubby Jordan Gelber is at once obnoxious and pathetic as Abe. We've seen live-at-home slackers with action-figure collections before, but never one so self-centered that he blusters at a toy-store clerk, "You'll be hearing from my lawyer!"

With his oafish yellow Hummer, his gut-stretched polo shirts and his mindless radio soundtrack of cheesy pop songs, Abe is the human equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard. Par for the course with Solondz, whose perverse appetite for off-putting characters is well known. Even the banal color scheme and featureless suburban New Jersey landscape has a familiar sense of hopelessness.

What's new here is the accumulation of plot gyrations/visions/fantasies that throw the reality of any given scene up for grabs. When the film's energy threatens to ebb, a sudden unforeseen turn will arise, thrusting Abe into ever more shameful situations. Characters from Abe's daily reality pop up in deadpan dream sequences, and we have to pedal hard to keep up with the ever-shifting boundaries between our antihero's awful life and his nightmarish reveries.

We look on in squirming uncertainty. How is it that mousy office drone Marie has concealed a racy parallel identity for so many years? Did Abe's accomplished younger brother really arrive suddenly to push every sibling rivalry button on the keyboard? Could Miranda's disquieting health issues flare up and subside so suddenly outside of a nightmare?

With newfound formal control Solondz moves from one open-ended quagmire to the next. He scarcely gives us time to find our footing before he yanks the rug from under us again. "Dark Horse" is irritating, baffling, disturbing and hypnotic. But just try forgetting about this inscrutable puzzle. You may want to put it out of your mind when it's over, but it won't stay there.

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186

  • related content

  • Jordan Gelber and Selma Blair in "Dark Horse"

  • DARK HORSE

    ★★★ out of four stars

    Unrated by the MPAA, but includes sensuality, violence and mature themes.

    Theater: Lagoon.

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