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Movie Review: Solitary Man

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As my wife and I sat down to a late lunch after seeing Solitary Man, we looked at each other and shrugged. I said, “I can’t put my finger on why, but I didn’t like it.” She said, “I know. I spent half the movie thinking about where we should go to eat.”

We thought it was a sure thing. We’re both fans of Michael Douglas. So we had settled in for a good time. And then, time had started to drag. I had to check my watch twice when it was over. Could it really have lasted only 90 minutes?

As a reviewer though, I can’t just say, “I have no idea why, but it wasn’t very good.” I have to sort things out and find words to explain my boredom. I did cheat though when I tweeted my one word review: “Blech!” But then Twitter only allows 140 characters anyway.

The movie has a great cast. Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, Mary-Louise Parker, and Jesse Eisenberg have all provided me with great times at the movies. But, here, none of them register more than the faintest impression. The movie has the feel of a project that meant a lot to Douglas – for some reason – and a bunch of his actor friends agreed to help out.

I don’t know how those actors could’ve left an impression though. They all act their hearts out trying to keep the movie afloat. They’re drowning swimmers splashing and floundering about trying to save their lives. But, unfortunately, some swimmers and some actors do drown.

I think all this foundering is due to the filmmakers failing to create a good sense of a world surrounding their characters. Douglas goes from a very successful salesman to a broken-down man working in a deli, and yet we never really get a sense of where or how he lives during this. The movie is very claustrophobic. It barely sets foot outdoors.

Because of this, when various members of that stellar cast drift in and out of the movie, they don’t feel like they’ve entered from another part of a world. They feel like they stumbled out of their makeup chairs to say a few lines before walking off camera again to go see what the caterers left on the lunch table.

I didn’t believe anyone in the movie to be a living, breathing person. They all pop in and out of the movie whenever necessary just to make plot points. Poor Jesse Eisenberg plays nothing more that the same pretentious college student he’s already played once or twice before in his sleep.

Maybe, I simply didn’t find Douglas’ character sympathetic. He learns during the opening scene that, in his 50s, he has a poor ticker. But instead of coping, he runs away and becomes a sex addict, sleeping with every 18-year-old he can talk into his bed.

Now, I understand fears of mortality, very well actually, but the movie never satisfactorily tied the strings together. So, instead of desperately afraid, he comes across as pathetic and cowardly. If this is a personal movie for Douglas, I hope I haven’t just learned something about him I didn’t want to know.

Or, maybe, I just wasn’t in a mind to enjoy Solitary Man. The night before, I watched the new DVD of the classic Japanese movie The Only Son about a mother and son and their shared disappointment in the turns his life has taken. It’s perfect. It’s a tough act for any movie to follow.

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