Published Sep 15, 2011Now that Todd Solondz has exhausted using casting gimmicks to exemplify how people never truly change or grow, he seems keen on also pointing out that striving for dreams outside of your immediate scope is merely a recipe for disaster, contrary to what most American cinema and television purports. As usual, it all boils down to people being self-serving complainers convinced that everyone else is the problem rather than themselves.
With Dark Horse, he reverts to a more accessible format, not unlike Welcome to the Dollhouse, wherein social pariah Abe (Jordan Gelber) desperately strives to fit in and obtain the American dream despite being a useless, uneducated, obese man-boy without any concept of social cues. It's why the title refers to him as a plucky underdog, sure to win over the affections of the depressive, but comely, and initially resistant, Miranda (Selma Blair, updating her character from Solondz's Storytelling).
Careful to include references to American Idol and comic book consumerist ideals as pop songs blare in the background, Solondz follows the formula of the American male fantasy comedy (think She's Out of My League), only to kick it in the ass with a little bit of nasty reality. Just as Miranda agrees to date our scrappy protagonist, she points out that in doing so she's giving up her ambitions, hopes, independence and self-respect, relegating herself to the expected role of wife and mother.
While the initial premise and satire of the dreamy B.S. ideals shoved down everyone's throat, along with the notion that success comes only through defeat, are actually quite amusing and insightful, Solondz's execution in communicating them leaves something to be desired.
As Dark Horse progresses, Abe delves further into his fantasy world, making the present reality of the film erratic and increasingly frustrating. Clearly, these sequences have a purpose, exploring the fantasy realm to assess the psychological consciousness of defeat and punishment for delusion, but they're awkwardly incorporated into a narrative that has little going for it beyond being informative.
Perhaps if Solondz had focused a bit on making a coherent film that integrated his misanthropic viewpoint, he could have managed to sell his worldview to the very people that reject it rather than just those already on the bandwagon. (Double Hope)