Abe, the obese, rude, unlikable antihero of Todd Solondz's latest suburban chamber of horrors, the wonderfully realized and surprisingly understated dark satire Dark Horse, is the kind of guy who drives a canary-yellow Hummer and makes balletic moves each time he hits the auto-lock button on his key ring.
"This is my car!" his dance announces. "This is my totally cool, expensive car! Yep! I'm cool!"
Abe pumps his arm in the air after throwing his soda can in the trash, free-throw style. He checks himself out in the mirror for too long and you know, you just know, he's dying to blow himself a kiss.
Trouble is, Abe, who is expertly played by Jordan Gelber as a phlegmatic yet oddly sympathetic oaf, has little to boast about.
A graceless thirtysomething manchild, he lives with his parents in a little boy's bedroom filled to the brim with toys.
He's desperately lonely, depressed, and harbors such enraged self-loathing you almost feel sorry for him when he unleashes his hatred on his hapless parents.
Abe's dad, Jackie (an amazingly zombielike Christopher Walken), is an automaton whose success as a real estate developer seems to have come at the expense of his soul, his heart, his passion. Abe's mom, Phyllis (Mia Farrow), is a perpetually exhausted housewife who looks ready for the knacker's yard. She's also Abe's only friend.
Abe is the quintessential Solondz character, a master at self-deception whose existential despair is sugarcoated with shiny toys.
As Dark Horse opens, Abe is offered an unbelievable opportunity to reverse his fortunes when a woman he meets at a wedding actually gives him her number.
Miranda (Selma Blair in a deliciously angst-ridden performance) is slim, attractive, stylish. But she's just as messed up as Abe. She's a lost soul, a narcissistic depressive who lives inside her head.
She makes clear she's not in the least bit attracted to Abe, yet agrees to go out with him. She says yes with the melancholy conviction of a prisoner being led to the noose. She acknowledges that it's time she "gave up on my literary career, hope . . . independence, self-respect. I should just get married."
She looks shocked after Abe kisses her for the first time. "Oh my God," she says, "that wasn't horrible!"
The film enacts an odd - and, at times, oddly endearing - love story between the unlikely couple, characters whose kind he has put under the microscope since his 1995 breakout, Welcome to the Dollhouse. Happily, Dark Horse retains some of the earlier film's charm, making it a much more successful film than many of Solondz's recent offerings.
Solondz here restrains his tendency to turn his films into pitiless autopsies of middle-class suburbia, films told by an artist who seems to feel nothing but contempt for his own characters. With Dark Horse, he tempers his ironic gaze and satiric edge with real humanity.
Contact Tirdad Derakhshani at 215-854-2736 or firstname.lastname@example.org.