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‘Dark Horse’ Movie Review – A heady mix of deadpan humor, heartbreak, and Hepatitis B

Dark Horse

Directed by Todd Solondz

Written by Todd Solondz

2011, USA

An intimate dark comedy, Dark Horse, by director Todd Solondz (Welcome To The Dollhouse, Happiness), is a surprise simply because it marks the filmmaker’s most heartwarming movie, making it a more mainstream-friendly affair than his other films. Unfortunately, it is also not as entertaining, shocking or insightful as his previous work. Don’t expect Solondz to simultaneously irritate audiences and provoke thought here, as his previous work has. There is no rape, no molestation, no masturbation, no pedophilia. Far gone are the twisted narratives and outrageous manifestations from his previous work. But thats not the pic’s handicap. The problem is, Dark Horse feels stunted early on, and never really goes anywhere, coming across as, at best, the missing pages of a previous screenplay.

A lonely, underachieving, unlikeable, overweight real-estate protagonist named Abe, played wonderfully by Jordan Gelber, meets Miranda (Selma Blair): beautiful, troubled, chronically depressed and still mourning her ex-boyfriend Mahmoud, who left her with a broken heart and hepatitis B. Mismatched lovers is a bit of an understatement since these two have absolutely nothing in common but that doesn’t stop Abe from proposing on their very first date.

Dark Horse plays out like an absurd character comedy, and music supervisor Michael Hill’s song selection, cinematographer Andrij Parekh’s Red-camera lensing and designer Alex DiGerlando work well for Solondz’s vision, a style reminiscent of classic TV sitcom mise en scène. Solondz lavishes his calamitous protagonists with a car crash, a coma, sexually transmitted diseases, and imaginary friends. Look out for Donna Murphy playing Marie in Abe’s fantasy world, stealing the show while undergoing a hilarious metamorphosis as a “cougar.” Solondz is still a fan of hopeless characters, but always finds time to suggest that there is some good in us all. Yet as much as Dark Horse is Solondz most optimistic view on human beings, Abe still finds time to rant about how “we’re all horrible people and humanity’s a fucking cesspool.”

Solondz’s films, while never mainstream, have helped shift the parameters of what’s acceptable to a wider audience. Dark Horse is still smarter than the average big studio pic, but nowhere near as ruthless as Solondz’s best. There is just too little in the film’s seedy narrative that wasn’t handled with more pungency and wit as in his best work. Dark Horse is well worth a watch for fans of the director, but it’s best to keep expectations low. Solondz seems like he’s treading water, making the same films with similar characters for the past sixteen years. The pic ends on a note that is typical Solondz, but once the credits role, you can’t help but think that this might be a step back for a talented writer-director known for his style of dark, thought-provoking, socially conscious satire.


Ricky D

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8th to the 18th. Tickets, schedules, and other information can be found on the festival’s website.