Thursday, 10 January 2013

Dark Horse

Title: Dark Horse
Director: Todd Solondz
Released: 2011

Staring: Jordan Gelber, Christopher Walken, Justin Bartha, Mia Farrow, Selma Blair, Donna Murphy

Plot: Set around Abe (Gelber) a thirty-something still lives at home, while working at his father’s (Walken) property development company, wasting away his day doing as little work as possible while constantly scouring the internet  for action figures to add to his ever expanding collection, while being pandered to by his loving mother (Farrow) and living in the shadow of his successful doctor brother (Bartha). However when he meets the heavily medicated Miranda (Selma Blair) an unusual relationship starts to blossom between them.

Review: To be a Todd Solondz fan is nothing short of a challenging experience, for he is one of a rare breed of directors who truly seems to be more focused on making films for himself, much like Robert Crumb only seems to make art for his own amusement, rather than any kind of target audience. Despite this Solenz still has managed to attract a cult like following with the warped black humour of his debut “Welcome to the Dollhouse” and its follow up “Happiness”, before challenging even those fans with “Palindromes”. Still despite claiming that his previous film “Life During Wartime” would be his last Solendz is now back with this latest and strangely less warped offering.

Missing any of his usual obsessions, but still maintaining a dusting of his usual dark humour aswell  his ongoing focus on the middle class New Jersey Jewish community, it could almost be seen that the enfant terrible of independent cinema might be mellowing with age, while at the same time still creating another curious films even if it’s missing any of his trademark use of knee jerk topics. However this is not to say that he has completely moved away from his dark roots as Abe is still just as challenging to like, especially he wallows in his own self-importance while generally being angry at the world with no real reason, especially when he seems to have someone to do even the most minimal of tasks, as frequently seen by co-worker and closet cougar Marie (Murphy) covering for him.

Gelber thankfully doesn’t overplay Abe as some kind of loveable loser in an attempt to win the audience back, especially as Solendz continually piles on further quirks, when we shown him huffily trying to return a scratched action figure, quickly leaping to threatening to sue the store when refused by the store clerk. With such continuous examples of self-centred behaviour it only makes it more the surprising that Abe could have a relationship with anyone, yet with Miranda he truly seems to believe that they have a future together so strongly that he actually proposes on their first date.

Blair as Miranda is sadly overshadowed by Abe, especially when her heavily medicated presence leaves her in a seemingly permanently comatose state, making you certainly question her real interest in Abe, especially when she never seemingly as a result of her medication ever really show any kind of emotion towards him. However this is far from any kind of traditional romance, once again thanks to Solondz who also chooses this moment to turn the film into a strange hallucinary trip as reality and illusion blur into one, with no clear indication for the most part what is actually real and what is in Abe’s mind, even more so when it comes to Abe’s relationship with Miranda, with the film certainly leaving more than a few questions in its wake. This style of filming again see’s Solondz trying to do something different than we have seen before and while perhaps he might not have the same surreal grip on his storytelling as David Lynch does with his equally mind-bending films, it still remains a watchable if slightly bewildering effort, while adding to the recent burst of films focusing on the live at home man child with mumblecore efforts like “Cyrus” and “Jeff Who Lives At Home”.

While this might be Gelber’s film he still recives strong support from his more establish co-stars in particular Walken who is seen here on a more laid back and softly spoken form, while punctuating his scenes with such long stares that he could no doubt beat owls in a staring contest.  Meanwhie Farrow comes out of her semi-retirement to give a non the less impressive turn as Abe’s doting mother who seemingly see’s him for his quirks and still loves him unconditionally, bringing back one of the key pieces of advice my own father gave me when he told me “Your mother is the best friend you will ever have” and for Abe this would be especially true.

For newcomers this might seem like the perfect introduction to Solendz work, but I would advise instead to brave one of his darker works like the aforementioned “Welcome To The Dollhouse” to see his true work, rather than this more experimental piece, which will challenge even the more die hard of his fan base, especially when it barely resembles any of his previous work, even more so when over the course of it’s short run time it seemingly never gets out of the gate story wise which even the most forgiving movie goer will struggle to get on board with, with Solendz’s characterisation no doubt testing what remains of their patience and as such I would recommend that you approach with caution.

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