Todd Solondz’s seventh feature length film finds the writer/director swimming in familiar waters but in this blackly comic tale Solondz has crafted perhaps his most complete and restrained film since Welcome to the Dollhouse in 1995.

Solondz first introduces us to protagonist Abe, a hard to like schlub played with skill and conviction by Broadway and television regular Jordan Gelber, at a party as he tries to chat up the drugged up and emotionally blank Miranda (Selma Blair). Invasive and high energy pop plays in the background as Abe struggles to get some sort of response and ultimately a phone number out of Miranda. Following this introductory episode we begin to see more of Abe’s life, a stunted and depressed life in which he lives in a permanent state of arrested development.

Abe lives at home and works for his father (Christopher Walken), but he firmly asserts that this hiring is not the result of nepotism, he really is the best man for the job. The evidence at hand would suggest otherwise though. As Abe pouts and sulks his way through interactions with his parents and co-workers he reveals himself to be something of a man-baby but the comedy derived from this is not as broad is it may sound, we are not in the realms of Kevin James-esque comedy here. A dark and somewhat unsettling tone pervades everything and the almost trademark Solondz awkwardness is here in spades.

There is something oddly sweet at the heart of the film though as Abe tries to woo Miranda, in the only way he knows how, with earnest attempts at ‘acting cool’ and impressing her. Miranda’s blank stare reveals little but once she decides to completely give up on life she realises that the only option is to therefore get married and have children (Blair’s delivery of this decision to Abe is one of the film’s funniest moments).

Abe is a willing suitor and once the two kiss, Miranda commenting that it “wasn’t so terrible”, their relationship begins to develop. Quite a few obstacles are placed in their way, Miranda’s Hepatitis B, former boyfriend Mahmoud (Aasif Mandvi) and the fact that Miranda doesn’t actually appear to like Abe let alone love him, but Abe perseveres with her, seeing their marriage as a necessary forward step in his life. A small step though, he intends for them to live in his parents home and for little about their lives to actually change.

Things quickly begin spiralling towards a bleak climax and any early empathy or tenderness in the script is blown away by the pretty merciless and blackly comic denouement. This descent towards a unsurprisingly dark ending is filled with a number of fantasy sequences in which Abe imagines scenarios in his life seemingly filtered through an almost cinematic idea of how people behave. Mild mannered secretary Marie (Donna Murphy) becomes a highly sexed vamp for instance, a role that Murphy seems to relish, and the act of returning a toy Abe purchased at Toys “R” Us (the name obscured but still reasonably identifiable) becomes a sisyphean task which ends with a fantasized version of his nemesis, Mahmoud, delivering a speech that strikes at the wider themes Solondz is clearly tackling.

Abe is microcosmic in the film of a wider idea that Solondz is engaging with, a strain of infantilization and sense of entitlement in the modern male that makes for fascinating thematic fodder but also a lot of uncomfortable and dark comedy. Garish décor in the production design and super saturated RED cinematography all add to this ugly world that Solondz constructs but in many ways it doesn’t feel as intense in its ruthlessness as something like Welcome to the Dollhouse or as fantastical as something like Palindromes or parts of Life During Wartime. This is more like a microscope intently focused on the real world and under this kind of magnification Solondz highlights that it’s ugly, dark, unsettling and occasionally very funny.


Dark Horse is playing as part of the London Film Festival on the 14th, 16th and 17th of October.