Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dark Horse (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

Dark Horse

Todd Solondz as a director, is usually the bad boy at the party. He invariably spares no one, be it an issue of sexuality, gender, religion or physical challenge. In his infamous "Happiness" (1998) he treats pedophilia as a mundane human condition. In "Storytelling" (2001), he gives physical disability a dose of darkness, by portraying a cold egotistical young man with Cerebral Palsy. Solondz possesses the ridicule of a John Waters with the Neurosis of a Woody Allen. Whether you love or hate his films, he never apologizes. Solondz is for me, a cinematic and transgressive Isaac Bashevis Singer. Central to his  insular universe are domineering Jewish mothers, unsavory people and  claustrophobic  split level houses that resemble beige rat traps.

In "Dark Horse" there are many of these elements but the irreverence is a bit tame. Rather than outrageousness, Solondz appears to have opted for the chance to subvert a John Hughes comedy. Instead of amoral glee, there is a low key existentialism. A kind of assessment of the 1980s on Zoloft. This is not to say that this is a bad film. Indeed Solondz's eerie trademarks are still in evidence: his bright, Pee Wee Hermanish palette and set design displays his usual paranoia. And here also is a suffocating mother played with anemic camp by none other than Mia Farrow and we have enough anxiety for two Solondz films. 
The film focuses on the fat and angry Abe (Jordan Gelber) who is an obnoxious born loser who collects 1980s film figurines and lives at home. Abe is pushy, sedentary, and a blowhard and there is very little to like about him. At a wedding, Abe sits with Miranda (Selma Blair. Abe pushes himself on Miranda before she says no. The two share nothing in common other than moodiness and inactivity. After a few drives in Abe's yellow Hummer, Miranda latches on to Abe, not because she likes him, but because she can find no one better. The two mostly sit and mumble, barely touching each other. Abe is shaped like a box while Miranda is like a bag of wet leaves. 
But they are supposed to be. Both Gelber and Blair play off each other wonderfully and have a perfect non-chemistry together.
"Dark Horse" would be a snooze-fest, were it not for the blacker than black humor behavior that Abe exhibits, which at times would turn Larry David into an unemployable Miss Manners.
Abe burps at every opportunity. He stomps around and takes up as much space as possible. His main outings are spent at the local Toys R Us. (In the film the name of the store is pixelated out, but you can still recognize the logo) In his soiled t-shirt Abe is a sight: more of an outsider than George from "Seinfeld."
If that wasn't enough we get Christopher Walken who leaves his over the top theatrics aside and sports a bad toupee. 
Suffice to say, Abe always chooses the worst path. He rages and storms and becomes more and more pathetic. His episodes are interrupted by his cloying mother and a lusty older co-worker who is a Mrs. Robinson to Abe's sour passivity.  Solondz has so much sleight of hand in his weird graces, that  he somehow makes it all entertaining. 
Like a cinematic car accident, we watch his characters to wait and see just how bad they are. No two Solondz films are alike. At their lightest, they are a scathing day at the beach and at their darkest, they are scenes from Roman Polanski as if inked by Robert Crumb or Harvey Pekar. Such visual fare may not be for everyone, but director Todd Solondz is never meh once the story unfolds.

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