Monday, 17 October 2011

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW: Dark Horse


It's Todd Solondz's new film! Still slightly traumatised from watching Happiness several years ago, but love Welcome to the Dollhouse so I have an admiring if slightly perturbed view on his work, though recent offerings haven' done so well with fans and critics. Dark Horse was said to be his most warm hearted film yet (I love that he gave himself the 'challenge' of doing a film without any rape or paedophilia) and though little was known about the plot, the cast was pretty stellar (a couple of them returning as reoccurring roles from previous films). I expected weirdness and wrongness in equal measures.

Abe (Jordan Gelber) is a 30 something overweight, pop music loving toy collector who still lives with his parents and works at his dad's real estate company. He meets Miranda (Selma Blair) at a wedding, and asks for her number. A week later he asks her to marry him, believing he has found a kindred spirit and the love of his life, but she turns him down. He is angry at the world: angry at his father (Christopher Walken) who he thinks treats him unfairly, angry with his smart successful brother Richard (Justin Bartha) and refuses to speak to him; angry at his cousin Justin (Zachary Booth - the weird son in Damages) who is better looking than him and also works at the company, but most of all just angry at the word and the belief people are horrible and humanity is a cesspool. He is pitied by his mother (Mia Farrow) who treats him like a child, his colleague Marie (Donna Murphy) who bails him out at work, and patronised by smiley store assistants in Toys R Us. But things begin to look up when Miranda calls him back and reluctantly agrees to his proposal.

I'll stop there because halfway through the film things begin to turn a bit odd. Solondz has always played with daydream and hallucigenic sequences in his previous films, and it's no different here with Abe frequently imagining Marie visiting him to give him advice about a situation, or rescuing him from a mess he's gotten himself into. But never to the point where what is real and what is imagined begin to blur into one another as in Dark Horse. I started to question whether what we had been seeing had actually happened as the second half of the film becomes more abstract and cryptic, and you don't have a clue what's going on. I began to just take every scene for what it was worth.

Even though Abe is unlikable, lazy and a complete loser he's a fantastic character - Gelber (in his first big role) plays him brilliantly. I loved that he had a Thundercats obsession, and spends most of his time at work bidding for toy figurines on Ebay! His rant in Toys R Us when he's trying to return a scratched toy is amazing too - "you'll be hearing from my attorney!" What happens (or what doesn't, depending on how you look at it) is depressing, but not as disturbing as traditional Solondz. Abe is the dark horse of the family, but he never truly delivers any potential, and there ain't gonna be a happy ending. The supporting cast are great - Selma Blair's Miranda almost comatose from her disturbances, and sporting some unfetching but suited great bags under her eyes. Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken are so game as the parents who love their son but also want him to grow up (there's a stingingly awkward scene where they meet Miranda's parents and discuss road bypasses and traffic), but Donna Murphy as the cougar secretary just steals the show.

Fabulous soundtrack as well (I seem to be noticing this a lot lately) - the upbeat cheesy 90s pop is a stark contrast to the miserable characters and their miserable lives. The film starts with a really fun choreographed scene at a wedding, where Abe and Miranda meet after sitting out the dancing and then closes with Marie zoning out into a daydream of her and Abe slow dancing as the office life carries on around her.

The bizarre nature of the film as it continues its la la la path make Dark Horse hard to sum up, and hard to categorize. It's definitely Solondz, but different. A return to form? Well, not one of his best but it has a certain charm about it even though it doesn't make sense. Is it all supposed to be random and unexplainable or are their analogies to draw up? And does it actually matter? Worth a look, anyway.




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