Film review: A win for the 'Dark Horse'

'I like to play, I like to have fun,' says filmmaker Todd Solondz.

July 21, 2012|By Andy Klein
  • 'Dark Horse' writer and director Todd Solondz.
'Dark Horse' writer and director Todd Solondz. (Photo courtesy…)

It may be too obvious an intro, but filmmaker Todd Solondz — whose new film “Dark Horse” opens next week — could himself be considered a dark horse. His films have a strong following at festivals and in art houses, but they are too honest, too dark, and too bitterly funny to fit any major studio's notion of “commercial.”

Most of all, they are relentlessly unsentimental — which doesn't mean they're not emotionally engaging. He first attracted attention with “Welcome to the Dollhouse” (1995), a tale of junior high angst that, as a friend said at the time, certainly puts “Sixteen Candles” into perspective. In some ways, Solondz could be considered the anti-John Hughes. Even at their funniest — which is very funny indeed — his movies can make an audience feel uncomfortable.

Speaking to Solondz recently, I suggested that the best comparisons would be Elaine May's “The Heartbreak Kid” (the '70s original, not the pointless and degraded remake) — “That was a brilliant piece,” he said — and Mike Leigh (“Another Year,” “Naked “), who he also admires.


“Dark Horse” centers on Abe (Jordan Gelber), a 30-something who still lives with his parents (Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken) and who pursues a beautiful, highly medicated young woman (Selma Blair), despite friends' cautions that she's “out of his league” and “much too good for you.” After their first kiss, she sighs and says, “Oh my god, that wasn't horrible.” Several people — some of them figments of his imagination — tell him he's a loser, and frankly it's hard to disagree.

Because Solondz, like Abe, is from suburban New Jersey, and because his films have such a sense of verisimilitude, it's easy to leap to the conclusion that his childhood and family life were miserable. Not so, he says.

“There were the good times and the not-so-good times, but I didn't suffer child abuse or anything so severe. I always dreamt of escaping the suburbs for New York City, But I didn't sit around bemoaning my childhood. There were a lot of happy moments, and there were things that weren't so hot. I can't say it would stick out particularly as an unusual sort of childhood.”

Nor does he have more connection to Abe than to his earlier protagonists.

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