Dark Horse (15)

 

Todd Solondz, once an incisive chronicler of American dysfunction, turns back the clock to his finest hour, Happiness (1999), to explore the plight of a lonely suburban consumerist.

No paedophiles or murderers now, just a pudgy, petulant man-child named Abe (Jordan Gelber) who lives with his parents (Mia Farrow, Christopher Walken), does something useless with spreadsheets at his father's office and drives an absurd yellow Hummer.

With surprising chutzpah, Abe chases after a hollow-eyed beauty named Miranda (Selma Blair), who's so depressed and strung out on meds that she yields to his advances; or rather, she doesn't reject him out of hand.

Just when we've settled into its glum tale of self-pity and resentment ("we're all horrible people"), the film takes an unpredictable swerve into Abe's dreamlife, wherein his father's meek secretary Marie (Donna Murphy – excellent) turns vampish truth-teller, though whether it's too late for Abe remains moot. Is it a vision or an escapist fantasy?

It's hard to tell with Solondz, who seems to torment his characters to the point of desperation before he decides to forgive them instead. Dark Horse hasn't the ensemble brilliance and emotional daring of Happiness but it does at least uphold the film-maker's status as a one-off.

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