We attended the red carpet event at the Sarasota Opera House for Todd Solondz’s new film, ‘Dark Horse,’ which was the Centerpiece Film for the Sarasota Film Festival, and then hit Cinema Tropicale for a few hours at the Sarasota Yacht Club. Both had me thinking about the role of our families in shaping our lives. ‘Dark Horse’ was indeed dark, too much so for my mood. I was looking for light fare before the Cinema Tropicale event; but as Solondz himself said, as he was introduced before the film, “you may find my film funny and want to laugh, but it is actually quite dark and depressing.” Cue my vague desire to exit; but I was in the center of the row with the star of the film, Jordan Gelber, and his proud parents who adorably seemed to have spent the afternoon searching for Sarasota memorabilia. The first fifteen minutes or so of ‘Dark Horse’ were hilarious. Gelber’s nebbishy character, Abe, makes a valiant effort to hit on the gloriously glum Miranda, played brilliantly by Selma Blair, at a Jewish wedding. I also loved watching Abe slide in and out of his massive yellow Hummer, especially the flourish he used to click off his car alarm. You couldn’t help but relish seeing Christopher Walken, as his miserable and nearly lifeless father, and Mia Farrow, in huge red glasses, chirping pleasantries at her son,while the two glared silently at the television. We soon learn that Abe spends quite a bit of quality time with his parents, remaining in his childhood bedroom covered with pre-pubescent toys, such as Thundercats dolls, and working for his father’s company. Soon Abe’s desperate attempts to remain cheerful despite a three-hour drive to pursue Miranda, who proclaims after their first kiss that it wasn’t nearly as bad as she expected, begin to dissipate. His misanthropic view of the world comes through loud and clear; and the laughter in the audience became less frequent and more uncomfortable. Poor Todd Solondz — what must it be like in his head? Things go from bad to worse for Abe; but he also becomes less and less sympathetic as we get to know him better. No spoilers here; but if you like your comedy tinged with sorrow and regret, then this well-acted film is worth seeing. Especially noteworthy was Tony-award-winning actress, Donna Murphy, as Abe’s father’s faithful secretary Marie, who changes her persona on a dime. Best line snapped by Marie, “don’t talk about suicide, either do it, or shut up about it.” When the film ended, we had to pass Gelber’s family to leave the theater. They seemed quite delightful, so presumably Gelber wasn’t method acting; but I did wonder how they felt watching their son skillfully portray a very unhappy and ungrateful progeny.
Off to Cinema Tropicale, which was packed to the gills. The Sarasota Yacht Club is beautiful, particularly at night with the moonlight bathing the bay in a light shimmer. After making our way through several long lines, we settled in to eat our appetizers in front of the pool, and we were just in time, as I quickly noticed the high wire above. Moments later, three of the flying Wallendas, the family famous for their death-defying stunts, headed toward one end of the pool. The new movie about the Wallendas called, ‘The Show Must Go On’ was high on my SFF list, but it started at 5:30pm, which was well over an hour before the scheduled arrival of our babysitter. The unquestionable highlight was watching an elder Wallenda perform. We heard someone behind us proclaim, “he’s not a young man” as he put his head on the wire to prepare for a magnificent high-wire headstand. Later, he steadied himself for a young female Wallenda to perch herself standing atop his shoulders, when suddenly his balancing stick exploded in fire crackers! We saw the Wallendas perform at the circus earlier this year; but it was a treat to have them walking the wire right over our heads. Now, that is a family business I can get behind! In ‘Dark Horse,’ Marie tried to reassure Abe about how difficult it is to work in a family business; but the Wallendas proved that a family unit that relies for its very existence on trust can create something beautiful. What a great way to end the evening! We took some dress up pictures with Cat Horton Pennenga and headed home. My mood and faith in humanity restored.