Abe (Gelber), a middle-aged, overweight neurotic, works for his overbearing father (Walken), is indulged by his mother (Farrow) and has never left home. Meeting the deeply depressed Miranda (Blair) at a wedding, he asks her out and instantly proposes marriage. Surprised when she accepts, Abe suffers crippling self-doubts which manifest themselves as realistic hallucinations.
If The Forty-Year-Old Virgin were rebooted as a Todd Solondz movie with no guarantee of a happy ending, it’d be Dark Horse — a wry black comedy which manages uncomfortable empathy with its protagonist. If a typical Seth Rogen, Zach Galifianakis or Jonah Hill character were a real person, they’d be Jordan Gelber’s Abe, a whiny man-baby who seethes with resentment at the brother who betrayed him by graduating and becoming a doctor, spends office time bidding for Thundercats collectibles, but throws a tantrum if asked to do his job and sleeps in a boyhood bedroom full of Simpsons and Doctor Who tat.
Alternately tragic and infuriating, Abe is just self-aware enough to want out of a rut which could as easily turn him into Norman Bates as a rom-com schlub. He happens upon Miranda (Selma Blair, sort-of reprising her role from Solondz’s Storytelling), who is so medicated and damaged that she threatens to accept his marriage proposal. Backpedalling furiously, Abe now seems reluctant to let go of the routine he hates... and gradually, with no clear demarcation point, the film is overtaken by his subjective alternative realities, in which the drudge who pities him (Donna Murphy — one of the best actresses in the world, in a rare film role) becomes a cougar with a Bond villainess lair, Miranda’s ex-boyfriend is felled by a single punch and crippled for life, and everyone queues up to apologise to him. However, even in his dreams, Abe can’t convince himself he’s not jammed into a dead end.
With a gallery of deadpan supporting performances, including an uncharacteristically subdued Christopher Walken, a terrifyingly fluffy Mia Farrow and a heroically generous turn from the undervalued Blair, this is still a near-solipsist vehicle for Gelber, who gets a breakout showcase role. Because Abe is so credibly wounded by imaginary sleights and finds so little joy in irresponsibility, he is ultimately a heartbreaking character; a pointed rebuke to the celebration of the worst aspects of male immaturity in recent pop culture.
Less confrontational than most Solondz movies, in that it refrains from violence or kink, but still unsettling and affecting.