Movie Review: Dark Horse
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 84 minutes
Release Date: June 29, 2012
Directed by: Todd Solondz
Stars: 3 out of 5
"Dark Horse" is a darkly dramatic film that tells the story of a man who lives on the fringe of society. Starring Jordan Gelber, Selma Blair and Christopher Walken, the movie follows a man who must choose between the chance at love and the opportunity for a long, healthy life. Although the movie is uncomfortable at times, its goal is to push the boundaries of human compassion and emotion. The result is an unusual, entertaining film that explores people in an often-ignored part of society.
The story centers on Abe Wertheimer (played by Jordan Gelber), a man who is undeniably a loser. Abe exists in a unique dream world of his own making. In his world, everyone is out to get him. What's more, his failures have happened due to no fault of his own-in his mind, Abe is the victim of circumstance. In reality, Abe is 35 years old and has accomplished nothing of note. He holds a position in his father's business, where he does less work and more loafing. In his professional life, Abe is incompetent, causing more problems than he solves. Despite his age, he lives at home with his parents, living in his childhood bedroom and whiling away the years with toys and games.
As the movie opens, Abe meets Miranda (played by Selma Blair), an emotionally disturbed woman, at a wedding. Despite her obvious lack of interest, he asks her out on a date-and, to Abe's surprise, she agrees. On the designated date, however, Miranda forgets their plans and fails to show up. At this point, Abe displays his inability to pick up on the social cues that are obvious to most people. He waits until Miranda arrives home from running errands and, after a few hours of talking, proposes that they get married.
Viewers learn that Miranda has severe emotional issues that have ruined her ability to live a normal life. She has given up on the possibility of finding real, true love. Instead, she chooses to abandon hope and settle for Abe's unlikely and unappealing proposal and even goes so far as to seal the promise with a kiss. Before the wedding, Abe learns that Miranda has hepatitis C and that the aforementioned kiss may have passed the disease on to him. As the story progresses, he must decide whether he wants to accept an undesirable fate or make an effort to move on in another direction. For a man who has spent a lifetime actively trying to avoid situations that require emotion, the choice is challenging.
Todd Solondz has made a career out of creating characters that make audiences uncomfortable, and "Dark Horse" is no different. Abe is supremely and intentionally unlikable. He assigns copious blame to the world around him, certain that the actions of others are the cause of his problems. In social situations, he has the undesirable power to make every person in a room cringe in distaste. To make things worse, Abe does not possess a shred of humility. Instead, he is unfailingly brash and loud-mouthed, choosing to express his inner misery to all who will listen.
For viewers who can shrug off the immediate sense of irritation toward the lead character in "Dark Horse," they will be able to enjoy the small moments of comedy that are scattered throughout the film. Solondz's humor is of a dark variety. He finds the funny side of the sad and pathetic moments in a life that would otherwise go unnoticed. Throughout the film, Solondz seems to be pushing viewers to their limits, trying to find the point where they will stop being disgusted by Abe and start feeling genuine emotion. For many people, that moment will never come.
The supporting cast creates a solid foundation for Gelber's performance as Abe. As the emotionally bereft Miranda, Selma Blair uses her trademark quirkiness to her advantage, creating a dark and entertaining character. Christopher Walken provides a breath of fresh air as Jackie, Abe's long-suffering father. Mia Farrow offers a strong showing as Abe's mother, the only person who truly likes him. Together, the cast members form an unusual but lovable group of misfits, and audiences are likely to respond well to their failings and good intentions.
Overall, "Dark Horse" has an underlying sweetness that uplifts the film and surpasses the awkwardness of the lead character. Viewers who can get past the tension and discomfort on the surface of the film will enjoy the moments of light that give hope and happiness to this unusually entertaining movie.