Dark Horse

darkhorseThe rise in prominence of the man-child, the stay at home adult, is more common now than at any time in the recent past. Circumstances in these financially constrained times mean that adult children who are unwilling or unable to leave the family home are creating a new dynamic that can become uncomfortable for all. Frictions and tensions can become common place as the aging parents expecting some freedom from child care responsibilities see the dreams for their autumnal years shattered. The 2012 film Dark Horse from cult director Tod Solondz centres on a kidult and the problems he faces while trying to connect and build a relationship with a similar woman.

We open on a raucous Jewish Wedding. Almost everyone is on the dance floor energetically shaking their meat to the beat. Glumly sitting at a table away from the dancing is Abe (Jordan Gelber). Close by is Miranda (Selma Blair). Neither are particularly happy or at ease. Abe strikes up a conversation focusing on how he chooses not to dance at all. Miranda looks nervous and ill at ease. She makes her excuses and moves away. Abe is not easily discouraged and at the end of the evening, sensing some sort of connection to this woman, persuades her to pass him her phone number. Abe lives at home with his parents Jackie (Christopher Walken) and Phyllis (Mia Farrow). Abe works for his father but is always keen to stress that he had to interview for the position and got it on merit alone. Abe resents the work he does at his fathers Real Estate agency. Everything is a chore and he spends his days doing as little as possible. His work is usually covered by the company secretary (Donna Murphy).He is more interested in his iPhone filled with soft rock ‘classics’, his posable action figures and his canary yellow Hummer. He dresses like he is still fifteen and has a room where you would swear a teenager lived if it was not for the fact that his room and its contents are in pristine condition. His father considers him a failure as Abe dropped out of college in his first year. It doesn’t help that his brother Richard (Justin Bartha) is a successful Doctor.

dark horse 2After a bit of persuasion Abe arranges a date with Miranda. It does not begin well as she completely forgets to be at home for his arrival. While waiting for her to arrive Abe has an encounter with the company secretary who tries to tell him to give up on Miranda as she isn’t right for him.  Abe wakes with a start, realises he was dreaming. By this time Miranda has arrived home. The date begins. So enamored with her Abe wastes no time in asking her to marry him. She reluctantly agrees. It soon comes out that Miranda has her on issues with commitment and health. A smooth path may not lie ahead.
The main performance from Justin Gelber holds the film together. Abe is the story and features in almost every scene in the movie. Abe is full of contradictions. He is clearly stuck in a rut. At points in the film he conveys this self-awareness of his situation only to brush it off and return to his bullish, arrogant self. His argument for not leaving home is that it is too expensive. He also thinks nothing of spending $450 on a limited edition action figure on eBay. Or for that matter running a large inappropriate car that the teenage boy trapped inside him thinks is cool. Abe’s relationship with his parents is a difficult one. His mother smothers him with affection which gives him licence to be rude to her at any time without rebuke. His interactions with his father are strained to say the least. Most are looks and grunts with the occasional raised voices. Although his mother is supportive to the point of being smothering, Abe treats her in the same off-hand manner.

dark horse 3Jordan Gelber’s performance is excellent. The various facets of the character are brought to life in a very convincing way. He is a strong presence  in every scene and is able to take on the responsibility of being the centre and the heart of the film.  Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken are both good as Abe’s parents. Walken, in a slight diversion from his usual quirky intense performance, exudes the world weariness of an older man going through the motions of life with apparent ease and complete disinterest. Walken is always watchable, even in this small supporting role.  Selma Blair’s interpretation of the character of Miranda came across as being a bit one note. The default setting was mopey and there was never any real variation even though the opportunity for a different approach rose in several scenes.

Having never seen any of Director Tod Solondz’s previous films I was interested to see how he would pull it all together in terms if the writing and the direction. The basic story could have been shot as a quirky romantic comedy featuring the usual faces and a suitably saccharin ending. Solondz obviously doesn’t roll like that. With the central protagonists being unlikable and unpleasant characters and the mixing up of the films narrative makes the film a unique and interesting viewing experience.

From viewing and enjoying this film I am encouraged to seek out the well thought of previous efforts from the director. Recommended.

John McArthur
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