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Ben (Michael Douglas) once ruled a car-dealership empire vast enough to fuel a glossy Manhattan lifestyle and endow a library at an East Coast university. But by the time he arrives at the college with his girlfriend’s daughter, Allyson (Imogen Poots), who is a prospective student, his world has collapsed around his ears. A business scandal has cost him his income and his marriage to Nancy (Susan Sarandon). His ever-present lust for every passing attractive woman threatens to take what little Ben has left. Even his new relationship with Jordan (Mary-Louise Parker) oscillates with tension. When Ben takes Allyson to tour the school, his motives are more than mixed.
Michael Douglas has spent the second half of his career perfecting playing charming, morally flawed rakes (Fatal Attraction, Wall Street, Wonder Boys). So his performance in Solitary Man--as a morally flawed rake who is somehow ingratiating, if not exactly charming--is a subtle but real revelation of Douglas's acting skills. His character in Solitary Man, Ben, shows elements of his roles in the other films, yet Ben is no master of the universe; he's one step away from pathetic--and just enough so that viewers will be invested in finding out how his story plays out, even if at the same time they'd like to see Ben get some comeuppance. Douglas's Ben gets a late start on his midlife crisis, at roughly age 60, when his doctor suggests further tests on a heart irregularity. In the aftermath of that shocking news, Ben's tidy life (beautiful wife Nancy, played by Susan Sarandon; thoughtful daughter Susan, played by Jenna Fischer) has come undone, rent by divorce, a giant fall from his career as a successful car dealer, and a string of rather nauseatingly inappropriate liaisons with far younger women. Ben should have "hit bottom" by the time Solitary Man picks up his story, some six years later, and in many ways he has--broke, despondent, lonely. Yet somehow Ben can still charm the thongs off the ladies (and this is one area that Solitary Man just doesn't ring true in; Ben may be a good salesman, but no unemployed 65-year-old is that good a salesman). The supporting cast is outstanding, especially Sarandon and Fischer, whose characters should have given up on Ben long ago, and yet still remain invested, even bailing him out, sometimes unwisely. Mary-Louise Parker is also splendid as Jordan, Ben's wealthy girlfriend, who also keeps him afloat financially. The lovely Imogen Poots plays Allyson, Jordan's teenage daughter, whom Jordan entrusts to Ben's care on a trip to check out his alma mater. (Bad idea.) "You can't cheat death, no matter how many 19-year-olds you talk into your bed," Nancy tells Ben, who seems to be listening--yet this old dog may not have it in himself to learn the new tricks he'll really need to make his life work. It's to Douglas's enormous credit, and to the script's, that Solitary Man, and Ben, manage to come off as human and real--even sympathetic. --A.T. Hurley
- Commentary featuring Writer/Directors David Levien and Brian Koppelman
- Deleted/Extended scenes
- Making-of Featurette
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It is a bit cryptic in the way the story is told. It is jumping around a quite a bit and the people close to him are being hurt by him. He screws up his business reputation badly and so some big deal that he was going to land to get back into graces would have redeemed him to the city, but no go he does something to mess it up and it is never divulged to the watcher what it was, and that is a bad movie move.
He is an older man but thinks that he can get any GIRL that he wants. He even messes with a family member, but they are willing participants.
Not what I would have chosen if I knew ahead of time. I think that Michael Douglas puts out better movies when he tries. Maybe it was the director.
I was eager to find out how Ben would deal with all the challenges in his life. He is challenged even more when asked to take his girlfriend's daughter to visit Ben's alma mater, a trip destined to have Ben confront his past as well as his current life. It has been a long time since Ben has been to that town and the trip brings back memories, increases his anxiety over aging and his fears about his sexual appeal. He also feels that his former business power and charismatic personality have faded. Douglas is pitch perfect in playing Ben.
The movie isn't without some flaws.Some of his actions seem almost intentionally self-destructive. Also, it seems a bit of a stretch to believe that young women would be attracted to a much older man who has neither power, money or even a completely charming personality. Even so, I found this a far more enjoyable film than the ones where nothing is demanded of the viewer but to sit back, watch a predictable action thriller, and munch on popcorn. By the next day, odds are high that the action movie will be forgotten (unless it is extremely well done and explores new territory). "Solitary Man" reveals how work and age is contrasted with young and still developing college students who are just starting to decide on their careers.
I'm betting that there are enough viewers who have faced similar challenges in their lives - even if they haven't faced as many as Ben. I'm not sure how much attention was given to this movie but it is well worth watching. Just don't expect the kind of tension found in "Wall Street" or suspense thrillers. This movie is solidly focused on the characters and the changes in their lives. It is refreshing to see an older man in the main role rather than the young, attractive faces that fill so many films. Douglas is still attractive but it is the look of a man who is seasoned rather than fresh-faced and innocent.
But then I thought it over. There's something rather appealing about a guy who decides he's reached an age where any medical test will likely have a disappointing outcome. So he decides to live his life to the fullest, which for him means selling cars and rolling in the hay. And deprived of the opportunity to sell cars, all that remains is the other thing! So yes, he is selfish and hurtful but he is also funny, adventurous, articulate and resourceful. He's everything women love except honest and reliable. True, these are very serious flaws but he doesn't suffer from the one thing no woman can overlook: he isn't dull.
At the end, I had a hard time seeing this "live fast, die old" approach to life as a morality tale when our lonely car salesman ends up faced with the choice of chasing more 19-year olds (probably successfully) or being "stuck" with Susan Sarandon. Either option seemed great to me.