Greetings again from the darkness. Director Todd Solondz is the master of film uncomfortableness. If you have seen his Happiness or Welcome to the Dollhouse, you won’t debate whether that’s a real word or not. Mr. Solondz has a way of finding the worst in his characters and then taking it even darker and more negative. And yet, somehow, his latest (and maybe his simplest film to date) could be called a comedy.
We are first introduced to Abe (Jordan Gelber) and Miranda (Selma Blair) as they share a table at a wedding, though obviously aren’t remotely together. He is oblivious to her near silent attempts to nicely avoid providing her phone number to him. The film moves quickly to provide proof that Abe is the epitome of arrested development. A mid-thirties something who not only “works” for his dad, but still lives with his parents (Mia Farrow, Christopher Walken) in a bedroom decorated with action figures. It’s difficult to look at someone who takes up as much space as Abe and categorize them as a kid, so I believe the better term is “not an adult”. He stalks Miranda and doesn’t seem to mind/notice that she is a heavily medicated depressed individual who looks at him like he’s a circus act.
Abe’s work environment is no better than his personal life. He brings nothing of value to his dad’s company, yet somehow thinks he is always being mistreated. This carries over to his feelings toward his brother Richard (Justin Bartha), who is a doctor. Abe, who dropped out of college, believes the only difference is that Richard was the favorite son and received special privileges. It’s very easy to label Abe a “loser”, but somehow Solondz manages to maintain our interest with small sparks of hope (very small).
The hope quickly fades and Abe’s life heads on a fast downward spiral. There are some bizarre fantasy/dream sequences that involve the quiet, much older co-worker Marie (Donna Murphy), and a conversation in the car with his mother and brother that plays like something directly out of a Woody Allen movie (made even creepier with the presence of Mia Farrow), plus another odd sequence featuring Miranda’s ex (Aasif Mandvi) and the source of her Hep B.
There are some funny moments, but as Mr. Solondz would prefer, the laughs are tainted with guilt. We can’t help but wonder why we laugh at a guy for whom we have such little respect … actually bordering on disgust. I must admit to being pretty tired of Abe by the end of the movie, and couldn’t help wondering if it might have been more effective as a short film. Still, the acting was superb, and unfortunately Abe isn’t that much of a stretch from someone you probably know in real life.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you don’t mind a dose of guilt mixed with some humor
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer to avoid the depressed and the losers amongst us.
watch the trailer: