Solitary Man is a character comedy/drama that follows Ben Kalmen (the outstanding Michael Douglas) who was a one time Forbes magazine cover boy. A respectable, well as respectable as they get, car dealership owner. Ben’s reckless behavior and selfishness has seen him plummet from grace, both professionally and with his family. He is a philander chasing after and typically bedding women half his age. He is jobless, his notorious reputation seems to precede him where ever he goes. Yet he has a charm and charisma that keeps him from being completely insufferable.
Ben is on the precipice of a return to his once glory when an indiscretion finds him yet again at the bottom. Is it possible for him to redeem himself? Will he continue down the path of self-handicapping that he is on? Thankfully Solitary Man never completely answers any of these questions because Solitary Man is a case study and a reminder of why Michael Douglas is an outstanding actor.
The charm that Douglas gives Ben is the type that no matter how low and slimy he gets, you can still, on a certain level, forgive him. This often leads to his family, that he left, and especially his daughter Susan (Jenna Fischer, The Office) trying to make excuses for him, or enabling him to continue down his chosen path. Others like Jimmy (Danny DeVito) have always been there even if not receiving the attention they deserved as part of his extended network of friends. Ben is the guy who could have it all if he wanted, but would rather act in his own best interest on the impulse than take the “safe route”.
Solitary Man is bolstered by a stellar supporting cast. Susan Sarandon is Ben’s ex-wife Nancy. She remains on speaking terms with Ben even after the countless terrible things he has done to rip apart their small family. Jesse Eisenberg makes an appearance as a young college student who is misguided into seeing Ben as an idol. Imogen Poots (28 Weeks Later) puts in a strong performance as Allyson Karsch the daughter of Jordan Karsch (Mary-Louise Parker). Allyson’s purpose to the plot seemed almost too obvious from the first time she appears on screen. Not her fault, just that the story and the direction it takes seems pretty obvious based on the characters’ motivations around her. If I did fault Solitary Man for anything it would be that the direction the story by Writer/Director Brian Koppelman takes was almost too obvious from the moment she appears on screen.
The story is saved by the fact that Ben’s charms began to be lost on me with each indiscretion and the disruption in his life it caused. At first I could see why characters like Eisenberg’s young college student would look up to a guy that seems to exude such confidence. Once the fake mask of it all begins to fade and the true person starts to come out it becomes easier to be less forgiving of their selfish ways after seeing the impact on those that actually care.
Not surprisingly the story is left pretty open. The run time of 90 minutes feels a bit longer than that as I began to wonder how it would end. I liked that the film makers chose not to wrap things up nice and tidy with a bow. Rather choosing to let Ben and the viewer make the decision based on the choices in front of him.
I give Solitary Man 4 “sex check list” out of 5
By John Coovert