Dir. Brian Koppelman and David Levien
(2010, R, 90 min)
★ ★ ★
Solitary Man is a more minor achievement than its credits would suggest. Its cast is filled top to bottom with actors I admire: Jenna Fischer, Mary-Louise Parker, Richard Schiff, Susan Sarandon, Jesse Eisenberg, and Danny DeVito — and that’s the supporting cast. Its star is Michael Douglas, who gives a very good performance as a disgraced car salesman in a mid-life crisis. Suddenly struck with fear of his mortality, he makes drastic changes in his life, none of them for the better.
The film is under-directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, but written and acted well enough to compensate. The script is by Koppelman, whose dialogue crackles with adult intelligence and wit. The story opens in a doctor’s office, where Ben Kalmen (Douglas) is told that there may be a problem with his heart and he requires additional tests. Cut to six-and-a-half years later and Ben is bold, cocky, chasing young women, and trying to pretend his adult daughter (Fischer) is his wife so he seems younger to the blond woman checking him out in the park. His ex-wife (Sarandon) is a successful real estate agent, and his grandson adores him. He’s dating a much younger woman (Parker) to take advantage of her business connections, which forces him to contend with her 18-year-old daughter (Imogen Poots), who is trouble in more ways than one.
Ben used to be a successful family man, but there came a point where that wasn’t enough. He cheated on his wife and lost her. Then he cheated in his business and lost that too. Now he’s trying to claw his way back up, but the best he can do is tutor a shy college boy (Eisenberg) on how to score with sexy co-eds. “You don’t want to regret a night like this,” he tells his reluctant protégé. The saying goes that you regret the things you don’t do and not the things you do, but Ben has lived the kind of life where the opposite may be true. He lives by a philosophy of “Get what you can, while you can,” but while he’s busy getting, he loses what he already had.
The film progresses as a series of dialogue scenes that gratify simply by putting smart words in the mouths of smart actors. And that’s the way it goes for most of its running time, until the last third or so when it pulls back from its dark character study into maudlin self-reflection and pop-psychology. The last scene is my least favorite of the film, summarizing the film’s themes and underlining the subtext with a big magic marker of gooey sentiment that feels like the film wimping out. I wonder who thought this scene was necessary and for whose benefit it was kept in — or added to — the screenplay. The film would have improved by half a star or more if it had followed through on its story instead of opting for feel-good-isms that match neither the rest of the film nor Ben himself.