I want to share this passage from A. O. Scott's right-on-the-mark review of Todd Solondz's new movie Dark Horse first:
"Again and again — in the ’90s indie touchstones “Welcome to the Dollhouse” and “Happiness,” and more recently in “Life During Wartime” — this director has blurred the boundary between misanthropy and humanism. He surveys the human geography of his native suburbia with what looks like unbridled disgust but is actually an unquenchable and steadfast love. “Dark Horse” may be his warmest, most generous movie, but it also casts a beam of empathy backward, illuminating the baffled, benighted, icky souls who have populated Mr. Solondz’s universe from the start."
I've cried watching Solondz movies before (through laughter most often) but nothing's he's made has moved me as much as the last few shots of Dark Horse did. (Donna Murphy gives a brilliant performance in this movie, by the way.) Last year Life During Wartime hinted towards a more expressive empathy from him - he seems to have found his footing through surrealism, or a similar magical realism.
Really he's been stepping through the looking-glass a la Bunuel for awhile now (most dramatically when he borrowed the whole "casting more than one person for a single part" conceit for Palindromes) and this movie feels like a culmination of sorts - it spins right off into extended fantasy for long periods of time, allowing us right inside the sordid funny and downright depressing fantasy life of Abe, king of the losers. I mean it's been there from the start - who can forget the scene when Dawn Weiner, having run away to New York, imagines everyone in her life expressing their love for her in a pathetic montage of dead-eyed affection?
The last act of Dark Horse actually reminds me a lot of the last act of Synecdoche New York - they both feel like a dying brain's attempt to make sense of the world before snuffing out for good. Dark Horse's Abe goes to the place where his entire life hinged - really, the place behind the wallpaper where he was buried years earlier, trapped under there smothering with an impossible expectation, a bad bet laid down by his father. Tellingly his happy story has nowhere to live inside his own head, but this time around Solondz gives it to us anyway, and it feels like a dam bursting. It's the saddest happy ending I've ever seen.
On that note, I ought to add that this thing is funny as heckfire! There are a ton of lines I fully expect to be quoting at length at people who have no idea what nonsense the crazy person's on about. Mostly coming out of the mouth of a doped-to-oblivion Selma Blair. "I had a long Skype with Mahmoud," is poetry, my friends.