When the lovely but depressed Miranda (Selma Blair) accepts a marriage proposal from Abe (Jordan Gelber) by saying "Things could have been even worse," you have to ask, "Really?"
The anti-anti-anti-hero of Todd Solondz' "Dark Horse," balding, pudgy Abe collects toys, abuses counter clerks, drives a cab-yellow Humvee, lives with his parents (Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken), works for his father and wears a Jets jersey to the office. Charisma he has not. But the real key to disliking Abe is that he's ungrateful. And thus joyless. And even though Todd Solondz' latest journey into suburban dysfunction may seem dark (and is), it's also about joy, and how easily it's wasted.
Solondz, whose previous work included the breakout "Welcome to the Dollhouse," and the splendidly warped "Happiness" and "Storytelling," is still interested in cruelty. In "Dark Horse" (most of which was filmed on Long Island, even though it's set in New Jersey), the cruelty is largely of the self-inflicted variety. Like Solondz' other grimly comic work, the film is also hard-wired to a kind of calcifying social angst. Abe couldn't be happy if he tried, which he does not.
He can't quite distinguish between his fantasy life and reality. He has no clue as to the affection being wasted on him by his father's assistant, Marie (a terrific Donna Murphy), who does his work for him, and visits his dreams. He's blind to the obvious fact that Miranda is still in love with Mahmoud (Aasif Mandvi) and she in turn is oblivious to the idea that one should not bring an old boyfriend on a date with a new fiancee.
"Are you for real?" Miranda asks Abe, after his proposal has registered. "I mean, you're not being ironic? Like performance art?" "Dark Horse" is certainly being ironic. Which doesn't mean it isn't a fully realized performance -- or art, of a rather perverse variety.
PLOT His protracted adolescence at an end, not-so-young man gets his cosmic comeuppance. Unrated
PLAYING AT Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington
BOTTOM LINE Darkly comedic, cringe-inducing, morbidly fascinating