Solitary Man review by Tom Blain

I had just recently seen the trailer for Social Network which stars Jesse Im not Michael Cera Eisenberg; an actor I had never seen before which makes me late to the Zombieland and Adventureland parties. Ironically just a week after seeing the trailer, I saw Solitary Man which also features Jesse Eisenberg al beit in a smaller part. While watching Solitary Man I couldnt help think of that trailer not because of the Eisenberg connection, but because of the song that was playing during the trailer. Radioheads Creep seems like a perfect way to describe Bel Kalmen (Michael Douglas), the main character in Solitary Man.

Solitary Man is one of those character study films of a very unlikeable character. Noah Baumbach (writer/director of movies like Greenberg, Margot at the Wedding) seems to specialize in making mumble-core films out of these types of characters. Writing and directing team Brian Koppelman and David Levien's creation of Ben Kalmen could be a more successful and less sedentary version one of Baumbach's characters. The film introduces us to Kalmen, six and a half years earlier and through a few cinematic clues reveals him to be a mostly honorable car sales man who tells positive stories about his wife Nancy (Susan Sarandon). It seems like he is a decent guy with his life in tact. Then he talks to his doctor who says he isnt in love with his latest EKG. Fade to black, and flash forward to present day where he is a lying, cheating, dishonorable, hot head.

In the past six point five years he has divorced his wife, taken short cuts and run scams at his dealership, been thrown in jail for doing so, and has tramped it up with any woman in Manhattan that will give him the time of day and accept a couple drinks from him. The film catches us up to his latest version and takes us through some of his recent lower and darker points. His girlfriend (Mary Louise Parker) asks him to take her daughter (Imogen Poots) to her college interview. Bens last name is afterall on the campus library (reflecting one of his high points) so he still has some pull at the university despite the fact that his name has since been disgraced by his car dealing scams. His character moves around the college landscape with just as much sleaze as an NYC hotel lounge and while at one point it looks like he might be protecting his girlfriends daughter from a college frat boy, he ends up shagging her himself. Why? Because he just cant help himself and no longer lives with regrets. This poor choice ends up triggering a chain reaction of professional and personal misfortunes.

This role was seemingly made for Michael Douglas who plays Ben Kalmen with precision. He brings a Gordon Gecko-ish slime to the character, but without the polish. At every corner he sees an opportunity to take another woman to bed and replenish his fountain of youth. But at the same time he carries himself with such unknowing and pitiful disgrace. Kalmen lives beyond his means as he struggles to create a new dealership and get his professional life back on track, but ends up shooting himself in the foot through his self serving behavior. He desperately tries to act young and full of energy and seems to buy into his own line of BS: "live life to the fullest, live in the short term, and don't worry about consequences because you could die at any moment and regret what you didn't do."

But really once the movie reveals the cause of his sudden shift in personality (i.e. the doctor's visit in the first five minutes) it doesnt reveal much more other than how very low he can go. The audience gets to see how he hits rock bottom, or at least something close to rock bottom with full knowledge that the root of his issues is a massive midlife crisis set about because he was afraid to find out what his bad EKG reveals. Oddly enough, this bit of information is also told to his ex-wife at the end of the movie in a revelatory way. Its the first time she heard it; but the audience has had this knowledge the entire movie; it seems like a completely unnecessary moment of repition that serves as no use to an already knowledgeable audience. In finding out what makes him tick early on, it did take any potential mystery out of the film and left the audience to enjoy the downward spiral.

And while we are on the subject of his wife, its probably worth pointing out that she is a saint. With all the screwing around Kalmen has done, how he divorced her and split up the family later in their life, and how he continues to disgrace himself over and over within the community (and in the press) its amazing that she not only still talks to him but in a way takes care of him when given the chance and seems perky when talking to him. She must be the most agreeable, kind hearted, not-bitter ex-wife in the history of cinema.

Im not a huge fan of the unlikeable character drama. Often in a conventional drama, they are a bit too painful to sit through and its difficult to invest two hours into someones life that you are prepared to intensely dislike and disagree with their actions; no matter how deep into their psyche the director decides to dive. The characters make highly disagreeable decisions, as is the case here, and it makes the film tougher to digest. The Koppelman/Levien team seems to do an appropriate job behind the camera in most cases. Their directorial credits are minimal (Knockaround Guys, and an episode of Tilt), but their writing credits include Rounders and a number of Steven Soderbergh films. Solitary Man however, doesnt do anything to help the audience enjoy Kalmens ride other than offer us the great performance from Douglas in creating such a creep.




5 out of 10 Jackasses
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