Serial under-achiever, delusional fantastist and hopeless man-child Abe (Jordan Gelber) pursues and catches his lady-love Miranda, an odd girl with odd parents, and they begin a love affair that gives new meaning to the word dysfunctional.
In Todd Solondz’s terrifically affecting comedy/drama, ordinary people and their foibles are placed under a harsh spotlight and dissected like so many laboratory specimens.
Principal among these is tubby Abe, black sheep son of Jackie and Phyllis (Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow), parents who despair or apologise as their sad-sack thirtysomething live-at-home son meanders aimlessly through life.
Dark Horse boasts that trademark Solondz edge of cruelty. Abe’s nerdy ways – he decorates his bedroom with toy figurines – buoy up his defects. As a spoilt, petulant and immature freeloader, he is hopelessly inept at coping with life’s travails and is a figure of fun.
Yet he is also naïve and scared, cocooned within the bosom of a family that, as much as it wants him to go out and seek his freedom, keeps him imprisoned. Dad Jackie considered Abe the one who would surprise everyone. Solondz’s take is that some people just don’t have what it takes.
This is an abstract portrait of love and loss. Gelber and Selma Blair, playing Miranda, offer up an insight into the world of people plagued by self-doubt and the crippling effects of peer and family pressure.
Walken and Farrow as the suburban parents cursed with a no-hoper pin their ambitions on Abe’s sibling Richard (Justin Bartha), a successful doctor.
In capsule form this could be any family, anywhere. In Todd Solondz’s hands it becomes a moody and sombre depiction of shattered hopes and dreams with a central performance by Gelber that is both guiltily funny and uncomfortably poignant.
On staggered release