Writer-director Todd Solondz is the master of the cinema of discomfort. His movies are set in a darkly tragicomic world that lurks beneath contemporary New Jersey suburbia. His movies are peopled with paedophiles, rapists - the deluded and the disturbed. WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE and HAPPINESS set the high water mark for movies you can't bear to watch and yet can't look away from. They are uneasy, disconcerting, disturbing, and yet, yet, at times, unbelievably funny. DARK HORSE is also set in that Solondzian landscape but it's softer, sweeter in tone. It still contains moments of deep unease, but it's almost "fluffy" - not an adjective I'd ever thought I'd use in a Solondz review. To quote long-time Solondz producer Ted Hope, "When I read the script, I was even more surprised: it contained no molestation, no masturbation, no rape, no incest". The result is a wonderful tragicomic boy-meets-girl romance that is utterly Solondz and yet perhaps his best work since HAPPINESS and his most marketable, commercial film to date. Moreover, it's a movie that features old favourites in quirky new roles - Christopher Walken and Selma Blair - as well as a genuinely exciting break-out role from Jordan Gelber as the protagonist, Abe Wertheimer.
The movie is about a boy and a girl. But it's Solondz. So the boy is a deeply frustrated, resentful man called Abe Wertheimer, who still lives with his parents; collects toys; works for his father (Walken); hates his brother (Justin Bartha) and fantasises about his secretary (Donna Murphy). The girl, Miranda (Blair) is also deeply messed up. She's failed at writing; is depressed after a break-up; and still lives with her parents. Abe and Miranda meet a wedding. She looks miserable, he stalks her, bizarrely she accepts his marriage proposal, triggering a re-evaluation of his dependence on his parents, and a re-evaluation on her part of how she feels about Abe. The whole thing goes off into a Lynchian subconscious dream-tangent and then wraps up in a final tableaux that is brilliantly painfully tragic and hilarious. The best movie of the festival, to date.
DARK HORSE played Venice and London 2011. It has no commercial release date but legendary indie producer Ted Hope is in town so we can but hope.