Movies You Missed 65: Dark Horse | Live Culture

Movies You Missed 65: Dark Horse

Our weekly review of flicks that skipped Vermont theaters


This week in movies you missed: your antidote to Twilight Part 5: the least romantic movie of the decade.

What You Missed

Abe (Jordan Gelber) is 35, pudgy, balding, and lives with his parents (Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow). He is gainfully employed — at his dad’s company — but uses his earnings to buy Thundercats action figures.

One day, Abe meets Miranda (Selma Blair) and falls in love. She responds to his courting with the near-catatonic indifference of someone in a deep depression, but this doesn’t stop him from proposing marriage. Miranda turns him down, then changes her mind. She’s just had a Skype with her ex, she explains, and he convinced her it’s best to give up all hope for the future and settle. When she and Abe kiss, she remarks without irony, “That wasn’t horrible.”

Things go downhill from there.

Why You (May Have) Missed It

The only place to catch Dark Horse in Vermont was a special screening at Main Street Landing set up by the Burlington Film Society.

Should You Keep Missing It?

Recent years have brought us so many, many movies about manchildren in a state of arrested development, from Steve Carell’s 40 Year Old Virgin to Will Farrell and John C. Reilly acting like 14-year-olds in Step Brothers. With the sole exception of Ben Stiller’s title character in Greenberg, all these guys have been sweet, adorable and basically good hearted, just in need of the right woman to get them out of their cocoon.

Imagine Todd Solondz, who brought us Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness, watching these movies. Imagine him sneering at their happy endings. Imagine him wondering, Who says losers have to be lovable? What if losers are sometimes just ... losers?

And so Abe was born. He is not a sympathetic character, as Solondz ensures by making him drive a yellow Hummer, wear an ironic disco necklace with his name on it and constantly put other people down. In Abe's mind, he’s not the underachiever of the family just because his brother (Justin Bartha) is a handsome doctor. He’s the “dark horse” competitor waiting for his big break, and he thinks Miranda is it. Never mind that he barely knows her — she’s “out of his league,” which makes her desirable.

Abe remains so small minded and non-self-aware throughout the movie that he only starts to draw our sympathy when Miranda does something that makes her look even worse. The film’s only likable character is Marie (Donna Murphy), the older-single-lady coworker on whom Abe relies to cover his ass when he misses deadlines. In Abe’s fantasies, she becomes a sexy cougar who takes him to her James Bond lair and tells him to stop whining and shape up in noir tough-dame style. Too bad that wasn’t real.

These fantasies increasingly take over the movie as it becomes clear that Solondz doesn’t know where to go with it. Are these characters redeemable? Does it matter? I thought the movie fell apart at the end, despite a few scenes that force viewers to look really hard at themselves, ironic T-shirts and all.

A.O. Scott disagrees, and his review of Dark Horse is worth reading.

Verdict: an unpleasant and yet somehow cleansing experience. Solondz remains the only American filmmaker I can think of who is completely devoted to counteracting our national tendency toward positive thinking. If you’re in the target audience, you may laugh out loud and then find yourself groaning in pain.

More New DVDs

2 Days in New York (Julie Delpy’s sequel to 2 Days in Paris)

Stephen Sondheim’s Company

Heathens and Thieves (indie western about raid on a Chinese-owned ranch)

Of Two Minds (Kristin Davis tries to care for schizophrenic sister.)

The Queen of Versailles (Real Housewife of the Recession)


The Watch

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)