Todd Solondz is very good at telling the stories that some segments of suburban America don’t want told. His films pull back the curtain on the insecurities of those who want to seem stable and well adjusted but are seemingly afraid to venture out of their white-picket bubble. One very evident problem has seen parents coddle their children instead of preparing them for adulthood. This leads to adults with a ridiculous sense of self-importance and an inability to unction as adults. This is examined in Solondz’ latest film, Dark Horse, and barring a few issues, it does a great job of illustrating the false confidence of the average American suburban white guy and it’s incredibly apparent pitfalls.
Dark Horse follows the exploits of Abe (Jordan Gelber) and the way he walks through his adult life completely ill prepared. He meets a young lady at a wedding named Miranda (Selma Blair) that is either filled with insecurities or struggling with a combination of disgust or ambivalence at the though with being with him. Abe has a strained relationship with his parents Phyllis and Jackie (Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken) where he constantly trounces hi mom in games of Backgammon for money and resents his father, even though he works for his father. Then there is Abe’s thinly veiled jealousy of his physician brother, Richard (Justin Bartha). Abe’s family looks at him with the same contempt and resentment that he approaches them with, and their interactions can prove to be as awkward and sad, as they are funny.
Dark Horse is a well written story, with Abe struggling to deal with his real life while weaving in and out of dream sequences where he is pretty much read a list of the anxieties of the moment by his father’s secretary (Donna Murphy), who eventually evolves into an object of his fantasies. There’s a strange bit about Miranda knowingly exposing Abe to Hepatitis B by sharing her toothbrush with him. Strangely enough, while the story is well written the way the film is shot could confuse a viewer. There is no way to really know when Abe drifts into dream sequences until it happens. I know for a fact, I had rewind portions of this movie more than once just to make sure something was a dream sequence. It was a bit annoying, and something that probably could have been rectified with a simple transition put in during editing. Then again, this was probably what was intended, as Abe seems to be wandering through his life anyway.
Adults who haven’t yet learned to grow up are pretty common, and have been the focal point of many movies over the years. Not many of those films have attempted to take such a thoughtful approach to the topic, but Todd Solondz did a decent job of tackling this subject. While not perfect, Dark Horse is a thoughtful, quirky, slightly haunting look in the mirror for yet another problem that suburbanites would probably prefer to keep to themselves.