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Solitary Man (2010) ***1/2

June 15, 2010

written by: Brian Koppelman
produced by: Moshi Diamont, Danny Dimbort, Joe Gatta & Steven Soderbergh
directed by: Brian Koppelman & David Levien
rated R for language and some sexual content
90 min.
U.S. release date: June 11, 2010
If it wasn’t for the fact that there is a sequel to “Wall Street” already coming to theaters at the end of September, this film could have easily been a look at how Gordon Gekko might have turned out twenty years lagter. Toss in a little bit of his disheveled Professor Grady Tripp, from “Wonder Boys” and you’ll have an idea what to expect from Douglas as a “Solitary Man”.
When we first meet Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas), he has turned sixty and is at the top of his game. He owns several successful high-end car dealerships, has a large and happy family, and is well-known throughout the New York City area. That’s all about to change once we see Ben get some upsetting news from his doctor. Turns out his EKG test came up with some concerning results and the doctor would like to run a few mores tests. This is the moment where we see something tune out in Ben. He hears the doctor’s voice but the information he receives serves as a jolting reminder of his mortality.
Six years later, we find that Ben has not only run from reality but has completely ruined his life. He lost his entire auto empire due to scandalous fraud, he  blows off his wife, (Susan Sarandon), and alienates his daughter, Susan (Jenna Fisher) and her son. Adding to all this, Ben is flat broke. One thing he still carries around like a peacock is his libido; which he put to use during random hook-ups with woman less than half his age. These shallow encounters seem to be the only thing that gets a rise out of Ben yet they don’t change anything.
He still has to go home to himself and look in the mirror each morning to face who he’s become. Deep down, he’s not kidding himself. He knows he’s not making his life any better but he still feels he must maintain that confidant, self-made man he once was. Those who truly know him know better.  
Things could turn around for Ben though. His current girlfriend, Jordan (Mary-Louise Parker), a loathsome life-sucker, has some connections that could get Ben back in the car biz. She has one request though before she places the right calls. She asks Ben to take her attractive daughter, Allyson (Imogen Poots) to take her to his alma mater and put a good word in with the dean. Of course, that turns out to be an obvious recipe for disaster. It seems the only thing Ben excels at any more is screwing up.
On campus, he manages to party with the college kids, oblivious to the fact that he looks like a chaperone. Ben winds up soliciting advice on girls and his life “wisdom” to a student, Daniel Cheston (Jesse Eisenberg), assigned to show him around. But he’s not interested in seeing the library named after him, he’d rather teach Cheston how to pick up girls (by showing not telling) or stare at the bench where he would sit with his ex-wife back when they were dating.
We watch as Ben grasps at resurrecting his career only to see him burn any prospective connections with his destructive impulses. For some reason, the man is still holding on to his stubborn pride, like in a scene where his personal banker (Richard Schiff) takes Ben to dinner in order to break it to him that the bank is letting him go. Despite their long-standing friendship, Ben tells him to eff off. Another bridge burned.
Good thing Ben has what is likely his only friend in Jimmy (Danny DeVito), his old college buddy, although there’s no reason Jimmy should be his friend since Ben hasn’t spoken to him in thirty years.  Regardless of how Ben has treated Jimmy over the years, he still has Ben’s back.  Jimmy still lives in the college town Ben left all those years ago and has worked at the small diner his father passed on to him. When Ben is down and out and needs a place to live , he shacks him up at his place, even gives him a job at the diner. He is married and lives a simple, quite life. A life that Ben should take notice of and we think he does. If there was to be a movie made on Jimmy’s life it would be entitled “The Content Man”.
So what’s preventing Ben from seeking real change in his life? His family or friends aren’t motivating factors in his life, so what will do it? He’s fooling no one, not even himself. The answer is clear: fear. Fear is preventing Ben from facing the music. It started from fear of getting old and then snowballed to fear of continuous losses which resulted in chasing skirts while pushing people away.
These questions are examined in Brian Koppelman’s (“Ocean’s Thirteen” &  “The Girlfriend Experience”) screenplay yet never really answered. Which is actually quite refreshing. The last thing we need is for all of these damaged relationships to be neatly tied up in a two hour film. Koppelman, also co-directing with David
Levien (“Knockaround Guys”), has us observe the effect Ben has on the lives of those in his life, since he barely does and leaves us to determine for ourselves which path he chooses in the end. There is some self-realization and possibly the first step in a sober approach to life for Ben but at this same time, we’re not quite sure. This guy can relapse at any point.
Douglas is great here. An actor unafraid to show his age while playing a character afraid to embrace it. I would hate to imagine that Douglas knows this character really well but it’s hard not to see it that way. He knows just the right playfulness to give this cad while conveying a poignant honesty underneath Ben’s false presentation.
His scenes with his real-life longtime pal DeVito, are the highlight of the film. Their work comfortably oozes an ease that brings out the best in each other.I could’ve watched a film with just the two of these guys.  And that’s where the film tends to leave you wanting more. There are so many good actors here, some delivering fine work (Sarandon & Poots, yes, that’s her name) while some aren’t given much to work with (Fisher & Eisenberg), that I wanted to see more of all of them. Alas, this is a “Solitary Man” and we have to see that man weave through all the people in his life as makes his way to finally face himself.

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