Art and Music      
Christopher Ward London


Dark Horse
GEMMA DE CRUZ:  Dark Horse, the new film from Todd Solondz, begins by setting up the idea that a loser guy in his mid 30s, who still lives at home, works for his dad and collects toys, is going to ‘get the girl’ and love will save the day.  Abe (Jordan Gelber) meets Miranda (Selma Blair) at a wedding and on their first ‘date’, oblivious to her nonchalance towards him, asks her to marry him; after a week, she agrees.  Miranda is at an equally stunted point in her life and is dependent on medication and a sleazy ex, suddenly Abe offers her Plan B. But, just when Abe thinks he has it all, she reveals a medical condition that could be contagious and reality kicks in.  At this point the narrative spirals out of control and you never know if you are in conscious or dream state.

Dark Horse describes the moment a guy who has grown up in middle class suburbia, spoon-fed and indulged by his parents (against the backdrop of his more successful brother’s perfect life), takes a step into the adult world. Abe wants what everyone else does - to settle down, fall in love and have a family; he doesn’t quite know how to go about it, just knows that he wants it, and it’s somehow his right to have it. But his arrogance-stroke-naivety isn’t the real problem, nor is it just that he has been supported for so long by his parents;  Abe has hidden behind the belief that his failures are everybody else’s fault, so by the time he does have to deal with anything ‘adult’ on his own he can’t so he does the only thing he knows how to do: he goes to Toys R Us and asks for a refund.

It’s classic Solondz style to make you despise and empathize with the characters simultaneously. Abe isn’t likeable but he doesn’t deserve the fate that Solondz lines up for him. Likewise, you think widowed secretary Marie (Donna Murphy), who works for Abe’s dad, is an even bigger loser for covering for Abe at work through some sad office crush, until Solondz flips it and she turns super-sophisticated, sex obsessed cougar.

Despite the surrealism in the latter half this is a straightforward doomed love story, but as ever with Solondz, it’s the detail filling the gaps in between that make this film so rich and layered that it continues to spin round in your head afterwards. There are endless little touches that come back to you and make you smile; like the stand-off between Abe and his dad (Christopher Walken) in the hallway; the long, pounding walk Abe takes through a deserted Toys R Us to the customer service counter; the motivational American Idol pop-rock that he listens to in his car... Every scene is so purposefully ordinary but loaded with tension.  Dark Horse is like seeing life through the eyes of someone who only ever wants to see it their own way: 'the world is against me but it revolves around me', was never so accurately portrayed.

Dark Horse is showing at the ICA from 29 June - 5 July 2012

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