Growing up is hard to do, especially if you’ve put it off for 40 or so years. In Solitary Man, Michael Douglas plays a sixtyish man who thinks that sleeping with young women and not following through on his cardiologist’s recommended tests will negate the unpleasant fact that he is no longer young. Running from old age is exactly what makes him old.
Starring Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, Mary-Louise Parker, Jenna Fisher, and Jesse Eisenberg, under the thoughtful direction of Brian Koppelman and David Levien, Solitary Man is a character study of a man who cannot accept his reality.
Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas) was the once very successful “Last Honest Car Dealer in New York,” a self-made man, proud of his education and accomplishments who blew it all with some dirty dealings, narrowly escaping jail, and when we meet him he is trying to rebuild his life. He is a narcissistic egotist, compelled to advise others how to improve their lives while utterly failing at his own.
Ben has another compulsion—pretty, young women—and his relentless pursuit of them to bolster his ego is the sad cause of his downfall. Working on getting a new car dealership (which seems a sure thing), dating the daughter (Mary-Louise Parker ) of an influential man in the industry, he continues to follow his hormones wherever they may lead.
The weekend he and his girlfriend Jordan are to take her daughter Allyson (Imogen Poots) to Boston for a college interview, Jordan is ill and wheedles him into taking her alone. Despite being totally dependent on Jordan’s support for his business venture, he sleeps with Allyson. It’s creepy enough that this 60-year-old man seduces his girlfriend’s 18-year-old daughter, but when he gets a bit moony over her, he only emphasizes how pathetic he’s become.
Tension between mother and daughter come to a head when Jordan makes a hurtful remark to Allyson, and Allyson retaliates by telling her mother she slept with Ben. End of relationship. Amazingly, Ben tells his daughter (Jenna Fischer) what he’d done and that it was “worth it.”
Maybe not so worth it when the board of the automobile company votes 7-0 against letting him purchase a dealership. Or when the bank he’s been associated with drops him.
Unable to pay his rent, he seeks help from his daughter. He then sleeps with one of her friends, sparking a confrontation that ends his relationship with her and his beloved grandson. Unable to get a job as a car salesman, he ends up in Boston, working for an old friend (Danny DeVito in a nice performance) in a delicatessen.
Never accepting that he is the cause of his problems, he continues the attempt to hold on to his long-departed youth. There are parts of his past that aren’t quite through with him, though. Michael Douglas is sympathetic as the man for whom we really shouldn’t have much sympathy, and Susan Sarandon—as the ex-wife who will always be there but never understand—does what she can (which is good) with her understated performance. In fact, there does not seem to be a false performance from any of the supporting cast.
Solitary Man is in many ways dark and hopeless. A self-destructive man who can’t see where his actions will take him¸ Ben Kalmen is at times arrogant, at times pathetic, and always clueless. It all ends ambiguously, with Ben having to make yet another choice.
Bottom Line: Would I buy/rent/stream Solitary Man? Rent or stream, it’s an interesting, low-key foray into one man’s self-delusions. DVD extras include “Solitary Man Alone in a Crowd,” featuring interviews with cast and crew, and the theatrical trailer.