BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
AUGUST 27, 2010
Call it sex addiction, call it sexual conquests personified, even call it a twisted point to prove, but Michael Douglas’ actions as Ben in “Solitary Man” are reprehensible. Failing to live up to the icon he once was, Ben trades in his glamorous life as a well-known car dealer for a life as a bona fide 65-year-old college student. Ben runs every relationship he has at the start of the film through the end credits’ wringer. Ben’s ex-wife (Susan Sarandon) questions his unending new outlook that is solely responsible for straining their relationship in the first place. Ben’s daughter (Jenna Fischer) resents her father for not being there or respecting her. Ben’s new girlfriend (Mary Louise Parker) does not appreciate Ben’s advances on her college-aged daughter and will make sure he never works again.
Ben’s sexual exploration defines him, making his character completely unlikeable. By the point he tries to proposition the girlfriend (Olivia Thirlby) of his college protégé, Cheston (Jesse Eisenberg), who is completely vulnerable and undeserving of such treatment, Ben squanders any empathy you may have for him. There’s little you can say for a film that forces you to dislike the main character so indefinitely. Even when you believe Michael Douglas will redeem himself, he falls off the sex wagon. Were he to contain even a small amount of justification in his actions, you could potentially attempt to understand him. Perhaps I am too young or naïve to buy the reasoning pronounced in the film’s plot, sliding it off as a late mid-life crisis following an unfavorable doctor’s visit.
Where the film leaves you is perfect, however. The final scenes place Michael Douglas on a bench, ready to decide which path to take: a ride home with his ex-wife or continuing down the road less traveled. As he watches a college-aged woman walk by, contemplating, I remember thinking to myself, “this would be a perfect place to end the film,” and there it was. The film ends with a man ready to make the most significant decision of his life, and we, as an audience, are left to wonder. Many viewers will resent this ending, but for me, the end made the film.
Each actor brings humanity to their parts, making the entire film feel realistic and lifelike. Mainly, Jenna Fischer shows a dynamic never seen in her previous role on “The Office,” highlighted by chewing out her father in a hallway for sleeping with a friend of hers. Susan Sarandon appears to be making her rounds, surfacing in several films, including “Leaves Of Grass” and “Peacock,” as the latest few. Danny Devito delivers a heartfelt performance and comes off as the anti-Ben; loving, devoted, and content. Michael Douglas, a natural at the unlikable characters, continues his streak as the villain, whether the filmmakers intended for such a result or not.
“Solitary Man,” much like Ben’s character, is difficult to invest in at times. Though the actors are selected correctly, the main character’s dismissal lacks Ben Stiller’s effect in his despicable role in “Greenberg.” Coming off comical in his bad-tempered reprieve, Stiller causes an understanding and acceptance of his character: “Greenberg” is “that” way. However, Douglas’s character in “Solitary Man” has a choice. He chooses to be a sexual predator. Perhaps a second viewing is to understand the enigma that is “Solitary Man” honestly, but for now, as the name suggests, the film will be left alone, distant, and derelict.
May 7, 2010
(for language and some sexual content)
Alwin H. Küchler
Jared Ian Goldman