Todd Solondz directed Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness and Storytelling among others. Now comes his latest and sadly it doesn’t live up to the films that preceded it. Dark Horse stars Jordan Gelber and Selma Blair, and co-stars Mia Farrow, Christopher Walken, Justin Bartha, Zachary Booth and Aasif Mandvi in a dark, meandering tale.
Gelber plays “Abe” who lives at home, drives a Hummer, works in his father’s real estate business and is mad at just about everyone in his family for things they did or didn’t do for him, and things he feels they did to him. Even though our first encounter with Abe is at a wedding where he’s trying to his on “Miranda” (Blair), he’s nearly impossible to like almost immediately. Worse, any chance we had of his character being redeemed and made likeable disappears rapidly from that point forward.
Abe is a numbers cruncher in his father’s employ and we’re never told exactly why he resents his father and the work that he is supposed to do so much, we’re just shown that he has no desire or intention to do it. “Lori” (Mary Joy) tries to cover for him as much as she can, but when his father “Jackie” (Walken) insists he needs the spreadsheets by Monday, Abe drops an f-bomb and announces he is quitting and moving out.
When he sees his mother “Phyllis” (Farrow) she asks him if he needs money which he denies. She asks where he plans to go, but he’s noncommittal. The only thing he’ll commit to is that he has savings and he’s tired of being mistreated.
Then there is his second encounter with Miranda. When they finally connect, even though they spent little time together at the wedding, Abe proposes marriage. Then he says she should just think about that, and consider going out on a date with him while she’s thinking it over. She needs to discuss it with her ex-boyfriend “Mahmoud” (Mandvi) via Skype and his response, like many things in this film is unexpected.
Turns out that Miranda’s own life is so unfulfilling, that even though she doesn’t find Abe attractive, doesn’t think he would make a good husband and has other issues, she’s so unhappy otherwise that accepting his proposal makes more sense than declining it. Soon her parents are meeting his, and she’s revealing something about herself that Abe might have wanted to know much sooner.
Then we start to see Lori appearing in and out of Abe’s life as advisor, confidant, and we’re not sure if he is really seeing her and talking with her about his future and the choices available to him, or if these sequences are dreams. Later we see more of the characters from his reality in these “unreal” sequences and the line between what is and what isn’t gets too blurred for the audience to follow easily.
There’s a subplot involving Abe’s brother “Richard” (Bartha) who Abe doesn’t have any real relationship with, and with whom he’s been angry with for over ten years. Another involving his cousin “Justin” (Booth) with whom he works and who his father decides to give his job to after another disappointing performance from Abe.
All this intertwines and coalesces into a third act that seems almost incomprehensible, although if you pay close attention, you can follow most of the plot movement. Even the appearance of Mahmoud at a social engagement between Abe and Miranda doesn’t turn out at one might have expected, especially when you see how close the former lovers appear in the presence of her current fiancé.
I got the feeling that parts of Dark Horse were left on the cutting room floor, as the run time for this is only 84 minutes and there are several things that I can’t be specific about without engaging in unwanted spoilers. I’ll leave those to you to try to decipher if you choose to see this film. Sadly there isn’t much to recommend it. Farrow, a brilliant actress at times is woefully underused. Walken who has been terrific in other indies (“Pretty Persuasion” comes immediately to mind) is not at his best. Even Selma Blair, who I love to watch on-screen disappoints with her mostly montone, uni-dimensional character. I understand that was how Miranda was written, but that makes it no less disappointing.