Todd Solondz is about to release his sixth feature film, Dark Horse (reviewed this week). But he’s still falling victim to the fallout from his second, infamous film, Happiness. That 1998 drama took as its subject a pedophile trying—and failing—to control his dark urges. The adult-child sex didn’t just get the film an NC-17 rating (surrendered to in favor of the “not rated” kiss of death).
It also made shooting Dark Horse more difficult.
During a scene in which the protagonist attempts to return an item to a toy store, the exterior shots depict a blurred Toys”R”Us logo on the store. “It was partly aesthetic. I could have done other things, but the point is that I was not given permission from Toys”R”Us to use their logo and was not given permission to shoot inside their store,” said Mr. Solondz. “I didn’t want to create a phony name because they always sound phony. There’s no rival to Toys”R”Us. It’s sort of like when you see people write a phone number down and it reads 555. A blur people recognize that from reality TV. It actually makes it more like a documentary.”
Mr. Solondz is an old hand at work-arounds given the number of bridges his material has burned for him. “I’ve been on the black list of so many corporations, so I’m used to this. You find solutions.” While the exteriors could be shot in the U.S., he needed to go to the Dominican Republic to find a toy store with the right look. “Nobody watching the movie is going to have any idea that this isn’t a Toys”R”Us—unless one works at Toys”R”Us, and is a specialist in the subject.”
(A spokesperson for Toys”R”Us said Mr. Solondz’s request conflicted with high-volume holiday shopping times.)
The great irony is that Dark Horse is perhaps Mr. Solondz’s least explicit film. Said the director: “I think the scandal is that it’s not so scandalous. I deliberately, I think, avoided anything that could be taken as sensationalistic or hot-button-y, so to speak. For those clamoring for that, this movie isn’t there to provide that.” As for the aftereffects of Happiness, Mr. Solondz recalled a screening of the film at Telluride, when an eager moviegoer described how funny the child rape had been. “After that, I said all my films aren’t for everyone—especially the people that like them.”