Todd Solondz's "Dark Horse" is his most warmhearted film yet: But its lack of bitterness may be its greatest failing.
Starring Selma Blair and Jordan Gelber as two unlikely misfits who find love with one another, critics seem to agree that "Dark Horse" is more mainstream than Solondz's usual fare, with his usual misanthropic darkness toned down considerably. Gelber's Abe is a 30-something underachiever working a dead-end job in real estate, and still living at home with his parents (Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow). Upon meeting the similarly damaged Miranda (Blair), Abe proposes -- and she accepts.
Critics who caught the movie at the Venice Film Festival were lukewarm in their appreciation, with many bemoaning the film's inability to live up to the acid glory of Solondz's older films.
Jonathan Romney for Screen Daily: "Don’t expect Todd Solondz’s usual level of squirm-inducing provocation from Dark Horse. Low on taboo content (the queasiest humour here concerns Hepatitis B), this character portrait cum anti-romcom is no stronger in content than much American TV humour of the Curb Your Enthusiasm school ... Dark Horse, accomplished and witty as it is, seems like treading water."
Stephanie Zacharek for Movieline: "Though I can’t be sure how many people liked it, it didn’t seem to draw anger or puzzlement or passionate anything out of anybody. It’s about as sweet a film as Solondz is ever likely to make — but that’s not to say it’s particularly sweet ... The picture is laden, like a tray of cheap bakery cookies, with jokes that are both off-kilter and thuddingly obvious."
Guy Lodge for In Contention: "A more streamlined character comedy that, while neither as probing nor as acidly funny as 2009′s “Life During Wartime,” [Dark Horse] might just represent the warmest film Solondz is capable of making. That’s not to say he’s come over all Nora Ephron on us — the director still trades in emotional paralysis, and throws in Hepatitis B as a crucial plot point for good measure — but the film is colored by an overriding spirit of grudging compassion." Grade: Three stars
Oliver Lyttelton for The Playlist: "What Solondz has done, in essence, is made a Kevin James movie ... Indeed, it could almost serve as the pilot for one of those schlubby-guy-hot-wife sitcoms. Of course, it can’t last, and it soon becomes clear that it is a Todd Solondz joint through and through, albeit one tamer, even kinder, than previous films ... But while it’s undoubtedly an interesting exercise in genre deconstruction, Solondz can’t really make the film sing beyond that. The film’s funny in fits and starts, but never really builds up a head of steam." Grade: C
Jo-Ann Titmarsh for Cine-vue: "Unlike his previous work, in which the focus is on various characters, Dark Horse is all about Abe, which - seeing as he is a self-centred, egotistical character - is just as it should be ... Though Dark Horse offers plenty of laughs, in no way is this a film in the wake of Hollywood man-child comedies such as The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005). There’s no easy resolution to Abe’s situation and the audience is not really rooting for him to get the girl and the happy ending." Grade: 3 stars
Xan Brooks for The Guardian: "Solondz lavishes his hapless protagonists with redundancies and car crashes, comas and hepatitis B. ... But there is little in the film's pitch-black interior that wasn't tackled better – with more bite, wit and abandon – in Happiness, Welcome to the Dollhouse, or Storytelling." Grade: 2 stars
Justin Chang for Variety: "Solondz is nothing if not a dark-horse filmmaker himself, and given his penchant for auto-critique, the fuzzy narrative logic of the pic's final reels -- with their push-pull between an unhappy ending and, well, a slightly less unhappy ending -- could well be interpreted as an admission of his own complicity in his character's fate. Yet there finally doesn't seem to be enough going on here to invite or reward such pondering to begin with."
Overall Grade: C
Watch a teaser trailer for "Dark Horse" below:
"Dark Horse" does not currently have a U.S. release date.