Scott Marks 3:04 p.m., June 18
Dark Horse is Todd Solondz’s most watchable film since Welcome to the Dollhouse. Come to think of it, it’s his only watchable film since Welcome to the Dollhouse.
Solondz has long positioned himself as the heir to the Woody Allen throne. One look at his first feature, Fear, Anxiety, and Depression, reveals Solondz in front of and behind the camera doing his best to out-Woody at his own game. Solondz’s bald-faced Xerography makes it unbearable to watch.
For years I have been assigning authorship of his second feature, Welcome to the Dollhouse, to the consummate performance of its star, Heather Matarrazzo. Hers is one of the most honest and compelling child performances every committed to film. Forget about Todd; his viewfinder would be put to better use as a paperweight. Heather is the boss of this Dollhouse.
Not that Solondz isn’t an auteur — his dark subjects play out before a pastel universe, characters are only able to communicate via deadpan delivery — but not unlike his mentor, Solondz’s visual style changes from cameraman to cameraman.
Kudos to Solondz for finally figuring out Woody’s secret: hire a competent DP. Andrij Parekh (Cold Souls, Blue Valentine) does much more that cover the action in choking close-up, another of Solondz’s directorial trademarks. For the first time there are actually compositions worth crowing about in a Todd Solondz movie! And how thrilled must the director have been to snare Mia Farrow to play Abe’s mother?
Josh Mostel is too old and Harvey Weinstein and Jeff Garland must have been unavailable, so Solondz cast relative unknown Jordan Gelber to star as his hate-filled protagonist.
Abe (Gelber) may fancy himself a dark horse, but this angry young schlub won the lottery the day he was born. He still lives at home with his mommy (Farrow) and daddy (Christopher Walken sporting a swatch of carpet tile shingling that qualifies as a recurring sight-gag).
As an employee at his father Jackie’s real estate firm, Abe does his best to stand out. While the rest of dad’s male underlings report to work in crisply pressed perma-crease shirts and J.C. Penny ties, manboy Abe shows up wearing one of his myriad of football jerseys and pop culture t-shirts.
To the rest of the world he’s a prick (ask any Toys ‘R Us employee), except on rare occasion when there’s a chance he’ll get laid; then he’s the nicest guy in the world. When Abe meets Miranda (Selma Blair) at a wedding, it’s arrested love at first sight. Miranda is so into over-medication that she barely remembers setting a date with Abe. The desperate and debonair toy collector proposes marriage the first moment the two are alone. The punchline according to Solondz is after she agrees, Abe discovers his bride to be has Hepatitis B, a disease that could prove fatal.
Solondz’s films tend to leave an aftertaste of a creator unable to successfully formulate and present satire. Sitcoms and their big screen sequels have seen to it that images of a near-catatonic husband and wife sitting cauterized before the numbing blue glow of a TV screen lost whatever satiric wallop they once packed. And I’m still not sure if Solondz felt the need to purposely blur the Toys ‘R Us logo fearing litigation or is this his way of flipping off the giant toy firm?
The official press site describes Dark Horse as Solondz's stab at "tempering his trademark lacerating humor with unexpected tenderness." What else is new? Other than Dollhouse his films lack the depth and guts to truly inspire or disturb. Solondz is neither as worldly as Woody or as venal as John Waters. I for one applaud the fresh direction his career has suddenly taken (and the new DP).
— Scott Marks