With Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Jessie Eisenberg, Mary-Louise Parker, Jenna Fischer, Imogen Poots with Richard Schiff and Danny DeVito
“If you’re gonna call me an asshole, I’m gonna earn it.” – Ben (Michael Douglas)
“Solitary Man” opens with Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas) meeting with his doctor. He’s giving his doctor no time to talk, he’s rattling on about the new car dealerships he’s opening up, how his TV commercials are going good, how his wife makes him dress like a business man – not a car salesman. His doctor (Bruce Altman) buts in, telling Ben that he wants to run an EKG because he’s worried about his heart. The audio drowns out as we watch Ben’s face sink and just become a neutral expression.
Flash forward seven years, and we see Ben wake up, his hair is dyed black. He pops two aspirin and gets up and looks at himself in the mirror. This small scene (that we see slightly repeated throughout the film) mirrors that of Joe Gideon’s morning routine in “All That Jazz” – it’s a nice little touch of homage.
What we see next is an opening credit sequence of Ben walking around New York City, he’s dressed sharp in all black and we listen to Johnny Cash sing “Solitary Man”. That took a lot of balls to use a Cash song – I can’t think of something more cliché. Johnny Cash could hold up a paraplegic – but it works, and it works wonderfully.
We learn more about Ben – all of his car dealerships in New York and New Jersey closed down due to fraud. Ben spent a night in jail and paid a big fine – forever tarnishing his name. His girlfriend (played by Mary-Louise Parker) is a boozed up little tart that Ben is just playing nice with because her father holds a lot of power, and Ben is trying to open up a new dealership and needs her father’s pull.
Ben is ultra charismatic; he’s a womanizer and doesn’t give a fuck what anyone thinks. He thinks he has the world figured out – and he just might. Ben is taking his girlfriend’s daughter Allyson (Imogen Poots) to his old prestigious college to pull some strings and gets her enrolled so he can get his girlfriend’s father’s influence to get a business loan.
Allyson has Ben figured out – she knows that he’s a womanizer, and she doesn’t care because she can’t stand her mother. Ben and Allyson agree to go their own way while on campus. Ben meets Dustin (Jessie Eisenberg who I actually really liked in this) who is a nerdy student council member that doesn’t know how to talk to girls.
Leave it up to Ben to show Dustin the ropes. While on campus Ben goes back to the staple diner on campus and finds his old friend Jimmy (Danny DeVito) still working there. They strike up a nostalgic conversation and start their friendship back-up.
Later that night Ben sleeps with Allyson, not because Ben is smooth and talks her into bed, but because Allyson has a “Daddy complex” and wants to fuck an older man – Allyson uses Ben, and Ben becomes hung up on her.
This is where the bad times come into play. Ben’s girlfriend finds out about her daughter and Ben – so she has her father kill Ben’s business loan. Ben goes to his daughter (Jenna Fischer) to borrow money, but because Ben is such a shit, she won’t allow it –and doesn’t want Ben to see his grandson anymore. Ben then goes to his ex-wife Susan Sarandon for consoling and she asks him why he left seven years ago.
What I like about this film, is the fact that we don’t see the good times that Ben had in his life nor do we see the bad times – we see the aftermath seven years later. Douglas beings so much vulnerability to the role of Ben, it’s humbling to watch. It’s this wonderful mixture of vulnerability and arrogance that Douglas throws into this character. I feel that Ben is much like Joe Gideon in “All That Jazz” – he’s a sneaky piece of shit that does dumb and bad things, but deep down he has a heart of gold. He really cares about people in his life, but he continues to hurt them due to his selfishness. After watching the film a second time, it does show a lot of compatibility to “All That Jazz”.
I never thought much of Michael Douglas until I got older; I then realized what a wonderful actor this guy really is. The range that he can display is unreal. He’s so charismatic and he’s just so cool, Douglas just carries himself in a certain way that’s unique and real.
The film is made upon Douglas, and branches out and thrives upon the chemistry between all the actors. It’s very cool to see Douglas and DeVito together again after twenty plus years and DeVito and Douglas are magnificent together. The film never loses focus of its narrative of Ben. It doesn’t deviate away and branch off to other story arcs, the focus is held on Ben. This is one of the tautest films I’ve ever seen.
This film is about life choices, more specifically Ben’s life choices. We don’t see as many on screen – but we hear about the choices he made between the seven year gap of Ben seeing his doctor and when we see a different, changed man – a solitary man. We get told very little, as we jump right in to the story.
This is a very small film, and it takes a lot of risks with subject matter and the situations that arise. The film gets graphic with its dialogue and while watching a lot what was going on in the film I thought it was pretty ballsy of Douglas to take a role like this. This is a role that would be generally played by an actor who is looking for a comeback or an actor who makes a lot of independent films, but Douglas doesn’t need that. He’s been around and he’ll always be around.
This is the best film I have seen this year, and showcases the best performance of the year (thus far). I am very, very impressed with this film. The film is funny, it’s sad, it’s romantic – it’s just so wonderful. This film achieves what big budget films cannot – real human situations and real human emotion; bottom line this film has a heart AND soul. I have always felt that smaller character studies are the greatest films out there. This film is riddled with nothing but clichés, but it works perfectly. This is a must see.