Sean K. Cureton

Recommendation of the Week: Dark Horse (2011)

In Movies on VOD: Reviews and Recommendations on June 17, 2013 at 11:26 pm

Theatrical Poster

Dark Horse (2011)
Directed by Todd Solondz
Netflix Rating: Really Liked It

Dark Horse is a brilliant black comedy about a middle aged toy collector still living with his parents who decides to get married to an equally uninspired woman still living with her own parents. The film is directed by Todd Solondz, a New Jersey native best known for his dark, socially conscious satire of American life at its most grotesque. Dark Horse is certainly no respite from such a legacy, offering a glimpse into the character of the American male in a state of arrested development that is unflinchingly ugly in its realism. However, Dark Horse is also heart wrenchingly sad, taking its subject seriously and allowing him the kind of humanity and grace that would be denied in a lesser work examining the same subject. While Dark Horse is definitely not the most cheerful comedy out there, it’s certainly not the worst, and the laughs that Solondz offers his audience are hard earned and painfully felt, as Solondz’s film examines the shortcomings and dangers of a society that otherwise abides and enables the unemployed man-child, on both the silver screen and in real life.

Actor Jordan Gelber stars in Dark Horse as Solondz’s muse Abe, who spends his days in a state of listless apathy “working” for his father and demanding refunds from Toys R’ Us.  Abe lets life pass him by, while complaining that he doesn’t get enough respect from his father while his younger brother, a successful doctor, gets all of his father’s praise and attention. Selma Blair plays Miranda, Abe’s fiancé in the film, who is likewise pathetically useless, pretending to be an artist as she continues to subsist on her own parents’ unconditional patience. When Abe decides to marry Miranda, she is at first resistant and taken aback, but soon agrees as she acknowledges the failure of her life that Abe doesn’t quiet see in his own; if he did, he would see just how ridiculous and self-delusional his marriage proposal actually appears to his in-laws and his Mom and Dad.

As the film continues, Abe gains more self-awareness, becoming more aware of the ineffectiveness of his constant whining and expectations of being refunded for every shortcoming in his life. Unfortunately, such revelations come in the form of daydreams and near death fantasies, which interweave with the actual fabric of the film’s narrative to such an extent that the viewer begins to question scene concerning Abe and those characters with which he interacts. As the fantasies continue and become more complicated, so does Abe’s character, which proves to be utterly human and sympathetic even in its self-indulgent woe-as-me complaints and subsequent revelations. All of this begs the question of just what mainstream Hollywood is doing when it allows so much attention to be lauded on characters who refuse to progress beyond the level of the young adult in more popular comedies and dramas. If Solondz’s film is any indication, such a fascination with the willfully unemployed is a dangerous impulse, encouraging self-involvement while negating growth and forward momentum.

Dark Horse is a fantastic film. Where such popular films as Anchorman or Knocked Up only deal with arrested development as far as such a condition can lead to raunchy, comedic high jinks, Solondz addresses the topic as a whole, never shying away from the more distressing aspects of such a mind set. Abe is not a likable guy, yet Solondz’s fascination with such a character goes beyond his childishness, and addresses his underlying faults in a way that is both diagnostic of his problems while maintaining dramatic integrity to his character that is never entirely caustic or comfortably detached. Solondz’s film acts almost as an antidote to The 40 Year Old Virgin, taking its subject just as seriously, but with a much more realistic approach and much darker conclusion.

Dark Horse is available on Netflix Instant View, and is my Movies on Netflix: Recommendation of the Week.  

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