Todd Solondz’s legacy of losers

Jordan Gelber and Donna Murphy star in "Dark Horse."

No one has satirized the middle class, Jewish suburbia of New Jersey quite like director Todd Solondz. From his first film, “Welcome to the Dollhouse” in 1995, to 2009′s film “Life During Wartime,” (which features a family who has fled New Jersey for the sunny beaches of Florida), Solondz has a knack for capturing those unremarkable, discontented lives —  skewering them and then sympathizing with them from one moment to the next.

Mr. Solondz’s most recent film is no different. In “Dark Horse,” Abe (Jordan Gelber) is chubby man in his mid-30s, living with his parents and working for his father’s real estate company. When Abe  meets a similarly stunted, heavily narcotized woman (Selma Blair) at a wedding and consequently proposes to her, his world begins to unravel. We sat down with Mr. Solondz to discuss the film, Dawn Weiner and man-children.

Metro: Many describe your filmmaking as exploring the darker side of suburbia. What do you think of that description? Do you agree with that?
Solondz: I don’t know. I suppose if that’s to mean that I have addressed “controversial” subject matter, then if it’s to be defined in that way I suppose one would have to say yes. I don’t really think in terms of ‘oh this is dark,’ or ‘light,’ I just think about characters and stories that compel me and that excite me and move me, and see what comes of it. It’s not quite as calculated as you might think.

When do you know you’ve just observed something that you want to put into a script?
I don’t know, it’s a mystery to me. I don’t mean to be evasive — it really is. I’ve been writing since I’m reading so it’s not a new process for me. Things enter one’s head in unpredictable ways, but writing is about sitting down, taking a pen, and putting it to paper. Or if you work on a laptop, you know, to just start doing it and pursuing it with a certain kind of rigor. So there are all sorts of interesting or tantalizing details that one observes in one’s life every time you take a walk in here or get on the subway, all sorts of things occur to one. But it’s really not until one starts trying to suss out the shape of a story that one begins to understand what is it that one is trying to do here.

Abe seems in line with this favorite character of the moment – the
man-child, which is seen in all the Judd Apatow films. What got you
interested in that?

Well, I didn’t really think going into it that
I was going to do a “man-child” it just worked out that way. I mean in
some sense, I’ve had children in all my films and so in sense this is
just an embodiment of another child. So, it just worked out. I set out
to do a boy meets girl movie and something very simple and low budget
and that’s what happened.

Some of the humor in “Dark Horse” is derived from Abe’s love of sicky-sweet pop music. Can you talk about including that?
It was very much inspired by the sensibility of “American Idol,” the sense [that], this is a character who’s in his thirties and yet still clings to his adolescence. And that music is emblematic of adolescence — the kind of high hopes and cheerful enthusiasm and optimism as well as the kinds of heartbreak that is well-known to teens. It seemed to be a nice counterpoint and at the same time a kind of embodiment of his own pathology.

You had offered Heather Matarazzo a role to reprise her role as Dawn Weiner [from "Welcome to the Dollhouse"] but she turned it down. Why?
I had offered her a couple times in a couple different movies had thought of reprising Dawn Weiner with Heather Matarazzo but she emphatically did not want to ever play that character again, so what can you do?

Out of all the characters you’ve created, are there any that you think you would actually enjoy being around?
Who I would enjoy having dinner with? I would certainly have a lovely dinner with Abe’s parents. And also Selma Blair’s character. I’m sure we would have a very nice evening out together. But I don’t know, I haven’t run through this. I don’t know that Abe and I would have a lot to connect with.


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