Sometime controversy baiting indie auteur Todd Solondz brings us another suburban comedy-drama, probably his most accessible yet, but still typically dark. The story revolves around Abe, a thirty-something man whose life is going nowhere. He’s single, overweight, balding, and still lives in his childhood bedroom in his parents’ house, surrounded by his toy collection. He is not the typical comedy movie ‘loser’ archetype though, he boasts a good deal of self-confidence, to the point of possible delusion.
After a meeting with a pretty girl at a wedding, the awkwardness of which is totally lost on him, he decides to begin courting her. Here his clueless misreadings of the situations are amusingly pitiful, but oddly work to Abe’s advantage. Solondz isn’t about to give us a predictable story of the lonely guy overcoming his troubles and finding success through romance though.
In other respects, Abe is a self-centred, rude, and abrasive to almost everyone, particularly his family. He despises his brother, a doctor, for being successful, feeling that he somehow does not deserve to be. He is employed by his father and spends his work hours lazing around on the internet, inappropriately dressed, and becoming infuriated when asked to perform tasks.
He is by no means a pleasant character, but a very real one nonetheless, and it’s really to the film’s credit that it’s no trouble to spend the films’ duration in his company.
His parents are wonderfully portrayed by Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken. His mother is always kind and caring to her son, and tells him how she accepts that him as a failure with a comforting smile. His father acts more coldly and critically toward him, in an unsympathetic yet understandable manner.
No stranger to experimentation, Solondz also features many elements of Abe’s imagination in the story, a factor that is not done in an overly obvious way at first. As the film progresses, what is real and imaginary to Abe becomes more and more of a blur. By the end, it becomes sadder but strangely touching. Another unusual element is the noteworthy soundtrack, composed of happy, sugary pop songs, which work oddly well with it.
Not quite on the level or ambition of ‘Happiness’ but something of a return to form, and another welcome addition from one of American cinema’s more unique voices.