Writer-director Todd Solondz is the patron saint of schlubs and schlemiels. From his award-winning debut film Welcome to the Dollhouse (1996) through a series of low-budget projects, he casts an empathic eye on outsiders who can’t catch a break, no matter how hard they try.
His latest foray into this heart of dimness is Dark Horse, a curious tragi-comedy about Abe (Jordan Gelber), a pudgy thirtysomething who still lives with his parents in his boyhood room, works for his dad (Christopher Walken) in a real estate office (where he ups the ante on laziness) and is constantly coddled by his doting mother (Mia Farrow). And, of course, his older brother Richard (Justin Bartha) is a successful doctor.
The film begins, as Solondz films are wont to do, with a simple conversation. The occasion is a wedding at which Abe aggressively chats up Miranda (Selma Blair), who is cute but distracted. To Abe’s amazement, Miranda reluctantly gives him her phone number, and a sad and perplexing relationship develops. Along the way, we discover that Miranda is clinically depressed, half-comatose from prescription drugs, and ready to abandon any dreams she’s ever had of happiness or success. She makes it clear that marrying someone like Abe is the next logical step, since it follows her pattern of descent into final despair.