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Todd Solondz's latest, the slight 'Dark Horse,' is not his greatest

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I haz a sad: Miranda (Selma Blair) and Abe (Jordan Gelber) in Dark Horse.
PHOTO BY JOJO WHILDEN

Dark Horse flirts with something interesting by letting these factors tear at Abe's deniability until he starts suffering delusional episodes — ones in which people tell him exactly the truth about himself. (Farrow's simpering voice has seldom been put to better use than a sequence in which her infallibly supportive mother uses just the same sugary tone to inform Abe he's always been a waste of space.)

But Dark Horse is less of an ensemble piece than most of Solondz's films, and in hinging on Abe, it diminishes his usual ambivalence toward flawed humanity. Abe is a buffoon, like a particularly unfunny Zach Galifianakis supporting character in a broad commercial comedy inexplicably given center stage in a low-key seriocomedy. The awful people in prior Solondz movies were also repellant, yet partly because we could perceive enough of their pathos to make them even more squirm-inducing. Abe has no pathos, or other redemptive qualities. He's just an annoyance, one whose mental health issues aren't clarified enough to induce sympathy. The director's deliberately crap pop soundtrack choices and tritely ironic ending only further reduce these 86 minutes to a thin, overextended joke.

That's disappointing for Solondz, though admittedly if Dark Horse were by somebody else its modest virtues might be more easily appreciated. In particular, the erratic Blair is excellent here — she digs into Miranda's depression so deeply we marvel that the woman can still summon energy to walk and talk.

 

DARK HORSE screens Thu/19 at San Francisco Film Society Cinema; it opens Fri/20 in Bay Area theaters.

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