Wednesday, 19 October 2011

dark horse (w&d todd solondz)

The arch offender is back. Solondz's Happiness is lodged somewhere in the spinal cortex of everyone who saw it; the film that artfully offended everyone. It was peculiarly effective and enormously successful. Perhaps, above and beyond the qualities which carved a path for a whole generation of "gross out" Hollywood comedy, because of the way in which it took characters who are usually too marginalised to be allocated screentime and explored their secret desires.

Dark Horse starts in this vein. The opening shot is masterful: a bizarre, tribal, urban wedding dance being enacted by a host of taffetaed and tuxed up celebrants, which pans around the room until it reveals two characters sitting on their own, resolutely refusing to join in. One of them leans into the other and says he doesn't like dancing. We instantly know that these will be our Solondzian anti-heroes.

The opening scene is slightly odd in so far as it's clear that it cost quite a bit to film, something which the rest of the film doesn't appear to have done. As though much of the budget was blown on this scene, which sets out a marker the film struggles to live up to. Thereafter things settle down as we follow Abe, the ugly duckling son of Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken (that's quite some lineage). Abe goes about fulfilling his destiny of being a complete and total loser. In the course of which he attempts with mediocre success to woo the attractive but maniacally depressed Miranda, the woman he met at the wedding; argues with his father; and has strange visions involving his father's secretary. Much of this is quietly amusing, but seems to lack the edge of Solondz's earlier work. Abe is a sympathetic figure, perhaps a bit too sympathetic, and as his journey meanders towards its desultory end, the film also seems to run out of steam.

It feels as though there's something slightly under-developed about Dark Horse. The writer has identified his characters but failed to really nail them. The anti-heroes are out there, but the weirder parts of their minds remain untouched. Perhaps Solondz is attempting to create more of a whimsical, affectionate fable. However, he'll always be stalked by the wild horse which was Happiness. His characters will always prowl in the shadow of that film's characters. It's as though he's created a rod for his own back and there's no escaping its ferocity; so anything he does which doesn't match up to it seems pale, rather than dark, in comparison.

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