Abe (Jordan Gelber) is a man in his 30s who still lives with his parents. He works a dead end job at his father’s company but is the kind of man who is not just a loser, but an obnoxious loser who blames everyone else for his failures in life. When he meets Miranda (Selma Blair) at a wedding, he decides to make changes in his life but is unable to see that this is just another form of settling.
Jordan Gebler plays Abe as the kind of character the audience loves to hate; he is childish, obnoxious and reminiscent of Harry Enfield’s stroppy teen character Kevin. Abe believes that the world is wrong, but he is right; his brother constantly wronged him throughout their lives and it is clear to see that Abe blames his family for his own failures in life. Abe’s relationship with Miranda is, in his mind, the perfect thing to bring his life to fruition, but his settling for a woman who does not like him – much less love him – proves to be his undoing. Gebler allows Abe to be obnoxious, unlikeable and angry, but he also allows the audience to understand the character and his motivations, without being overt or explicit.
Selma Blair as Miranda is medicated to the point of numbness. She is too nice to refuse Abe a date and relishes his love of her, but she is unable to love him or let him go. It has been a long time since Blair has had such a prominent role on screen, and she shines in this understated, quiet role. Christopher Walken plays Abe’s father Jackie, a man who appears as disappointed with his life as his son is. The difference between Abe and his father is that Jackie internalises his disappointment, ad in this way he is as responsible for Abe’s anger as Abe would believe. Walken gives a wonderfully stoic performance, a far cry from the charismatic characters we are used to seeing him play. Mia Farrow plays Abe’s mother Phyllis as a mousy woman who also accepts her lot in life. Phyllis’s quietness and lack of drive is also a contributing factor in Abe’s arrested development.
Director Todd Solondz is known for making films that examine the human condition, and Dark Horse is no exception. Although the trailer may make audiences believe that this is a dark and twisted comedy, Dark Horse is a tragic story of a man that cannot tell the difference between a dark horse and a dead end. Solondz allows the relationships on screen to be awkward and squirm inducing, and it is in these moments that the film feels real. Add to the awkwardness Abe’s fantasy life, and the film finds it’s humour while allowing the audience to understand Abe’s delusions of greatness.
In all, Dark Horse is a tragic film with moments of comedy and flashes of truth. Solondz has created a film with a dark view of human need and aspiration that is not uplifting, but always challenging.