Todd Solondz's Dark Horse probably isn't going to make anyone's list of best date movies of 2012, but the director's claustrophobic vision of optimistic youth slowly curdling into a hellish maelstrom of middle-age malaise is still a fun ride if you enjoy that sort of thing.
Solondz's profoundly angsty worldview hasn't changed much since his 1995 breakthrough, Welcome to the Dollhouse. His core characters are still hapless humans tortured by their callow, emotionally stunted, opportunistic fellows, but Dark Horse, at least, shows a hint of a light at the end of life's dark and dismal tunnel. Oh, wait - never mind: That's an Amtrak Superliner.
Robustly overweight Abe (Jordan Gelber) spends his days working for his perpetually morose father (Christopher Walken) and his nights living at his parents' house in his still geeky bedroom. His mother (Mia Farrow) is less of a smotherer than you'd expect, but it's all too apparent that Abe's life is a grim comedy of errors, strikes and - lo and behold - what appears to be an improbable home run.
That'd be Selma Blair's equally misfit Miranda, whom Abe (ever gregarious and hopeful) meets at a wedding. He haltingly scores her phone number in one of the film's few genuinely comic scenes. Their relationship begins in fits and starts, and with awkward revelations galore. It's pure Solondz, including both physical and psychic ailments, ex-boyfriends and a dose of perpetual flop sweat.
Farrow and Walken are terrifically semi-comatose as Abe's mom and dad, and Donna Murphy, as a coworker who takes what appears to be pity on eternally adolescent Abe, is equally memorable. Yet Dark Horse feels like a lesser Solondz film, despite its cavalcade of misanthropy. Perhaps that's because there's less shrillness to the proceedings than in the director's prior outings. You almost get the feeling that things might work out for poor Abe and ennui-enveloped Miranda. But, well, this is a Solondz film, after all. As in real life, happy endings are hardly compulsory.