Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Dark Horse vs. To Rome With Love, two films by comedy auteurs about neurotics and the people that love them.
PremiseDark Horse follows the day-to-day banalities of Abe (Jordan Gelber), an emotionally stunted, 30-something guy living at home and clinging to his parents’ generosity. When he meets Miranda (Selma Blair) at a wedding, the newness of love (or, more accurately, obsession) jump-starts his need for a life change, and after a confrontation with his employer/father (Christopher Walken), bumbling, cluelessly earnest Abe attempts to strike out on his own by leaving home and proposing to Miranda.
Woody Allen continues his string of New York-y people in non-New York locale films with To Rome With Love. As is so often the case with Allen, this latest film deals with a group of socially and romantically connected characters hashing out their relationships, personal issues, and peculiarities, this time set in the Eternal City. While Allen offers another humorous, pleasing version of Woody being Woody with To Rome With Love, Dark Horse gives us a glimpse into a poignant, bitingly funny story of the modern loser’s journey to self-awareness.Advantage: Dark Horse
DirectorTodd Solondz has been crafting dark satires since Welcome to the Dollhouse, and while Dark Horse is decidedly lighter fare than some of his more recent films (Storytelling, Palindromes), it still has all those Solondz signatures (hapless suburbanites, misfit ennui) that have worked so well in the past. After nabbing the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for last summer’s schmaltzy Midnight in Paris, it seems Woody Allen has perfected the formula for a crowd pleaser: add a cast of beloved Hollywood fixtures and quirky up-and-comers, complete with emotional baggage, to one picturesque European city. We’re banking that this will, once again, result in a winner for Allen.Advantage: To Rome With LoveCastAllen’s packed an interesting mix into To Rome With Love. In addition to himself (his first appearance in one of his films since 2006’s Scoop), he’s placed Judy Davis as his very age-appropriate wife, and added Alec Baldwin, Penélope Cruz, and Roberto Benigni as comedic and narrative anchors. Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, and Ellen Page round out the cast as the nouveau neurotic couple and sexually free-spirited friend, respectively. Dark Horse also packs a punch on the casting front, with a film led by Jordan Gelber as Abe, Christopher Walken as his (toupéed?) father, Mia Farrow(!), and Selma Blair. The Walken-Farrow combo alone is great, but with an appearance by The Daily Show‘s Aasif Mandvi, we know we’re in for some comical familial dysfunction.Advantage: Tie
Romantic EntanglementsIn To Rome With Love, Penélope Cruz is a very special gift for an unknowing recipient, Jesse Eisenberg is about to be seduced by his girlfriend’s best friend, and Woody Allen deals with his daughter’s foreign and handsome (albeit Communist) new suitor: all situations providing fodder ripe for romantic misunderstandings, confusion, and subsequently, laughs on our end. Dark Horse‘s Abe doesn’t seem to have much going for him. In addition to driving an atrocious yellow Hummer, living at home with Mom and Dad well past his ascent into adulthood, and possessing a penchant for ordering toys over the internet, Abe doesn’t seem to have the emotional depth one would expect from a man of his age. Yet his earnestness, in its own bizarre way, proves to be endearing, and while he proposes to Miranda, a woman he barely knows, we can’t help but feel (and root!) for the guy.Advantage: Dark Horse
Comedic StylingsWoody being Woody, To Rome With Love is filled with classic Allen tropes – most notably, neurotics dealing with relationship problems and fish-out-water situations, all while delivering carefully crafted dialogue. With Dark Horse, things are much more situational—not only is Abe himself ridiculous in his own right, but his dysfunctional family, incredibly overbearing father, and general cluelessness all contribute to the film’s absurdities.Advantage: Tie
Level of NeurosesAs with any Woody Allen film, the neurosis level is running high in Rome. Woody himself is the apex, and no matter how many incarnations of himself channeled by other actors he’s created in his films over the years, no one can deliver those nasal non-sequiturs quite like he can. , Jesse Eisenberg and Greta Gerwig are certainly proving themselves to be the next generation, establishing a witty, complementary rapport. Though she gets very little screen time, Mia Farrow is a highlight of the Dark Horse trailer, dispensing tough love to Abe (“We wrote you off as a failure a long time ago!”) in kooky sunglasses and hairdo. Farrow’s moment notwithstanding, we have to give this one to Woody.Advantage: To Rome With Love VerdictThough Woody Allen surely has another hit coming, we’ve got to give this one to Dark Horse. Not only does Todd Solondz always surprise us with his work, Dark Horse seems to have a heftier narrative, more fleshed-out characters, and a charming dark humor. Winner: Dark Horse
For more Trailer Face-offs, click here.