Review: Solitary Man ★★★★

Solitary Man (USA, 90 min)
Dir: Brian Koppelman & David Levien; Writ: Brian Koppleman
Starring: Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Jenna Fischer, Jesse Eisenberg, Danny DeVito.
Solitude, as José Saramago wrote, “is the first sign of death.” How apt is it that Solitary Man opens with a death sentence. The audience doesn’t get to hear Ben’s fate, for the sound fades out as the protagonist bears the weight of his doctor’s prognosis. The details of his health are almost irrelevant, however, because to Ben, even the possibility of accepting his declining lifespan is a dire fate.
Michael Douglas stars as Ben, a suave, arrogant, and sixty-years-old ladies man. Ben also happens to be a sleazebag car salesman, if being a dirty old man isn’t bad enough. But the chase is what keeps Ben going: The opening credits of Solitary Man feature the man in black cruising along the sidewalks of New York. Ben is such an aged hound dog that he makes an ass-hunt out of his commute to meet his daughter and grandson for a playdate.

One weekend, Ben accompanies his girlfriend’s daughter, Allyson (Imogen Poots) to her college interview. Once on campus, Ben relives his glory days as a campus lothario. Not surprisingly, Ben’s poor life decisions induce the wrath of Allyson’s mother (Mary-Louise Parker) and Ben soon finds his life on crash mode.

Conversely, Ben approaches his family with a true lust for life, although not nearly with the same insatiable appetite he has for younger women. From the early scenes, the audience sees how destructive Ben’s needs are to his family. Moreover, Ben’s inability to accept his age prevents him from pulling his life back together.

What’s most distressing in this absorbing character study is the obvious satisfaction that Ben gets from his familial relationships. His visits with his grandson Scotty (Jake Siciliano) are gleeful and energetic. It’s apparent that playing video games and hanging out in the park are just the answer for Ben’s quest to feel like a boy. Likewise, Ben enjoys an amicable relationship with his ex-wife Nancy (Susan Sarandon). Nancy is still beautiful at her age and also happens to be far more successful than Ben, so it's a mystery why her age is such a barrier to Ben's affection. Sarandon makes great use of her scant screen time, and her scenes with Douglas are painful evidence of the kamikaze nature of Ben’s mission to retain his youth.
As Ben descends deeper into depravity, it’s depressing how much the once successful man refuses to see the root of his problems. Perhaps it's how pathetic Ben that makes him so interesting: each time Ben’s life takes a turn for the worst, the consequences barely seem to register and it seems that his only method to remedy the situation is to relieve his stress in the bedroom. Ben’s predicament is wildly captivating, too, especially because Douglas makes Ben such a likable character, even when he acts like a complete shit.

Solitary Man really belongs to Douglas. In every scene, Douglas prowls about with a cocksure confidence that’s a disarming divergence from the grey hair and wrinkles that prove that Ben is growing old. At times, Douglas allows Ben’s beat-down demeanour to slip through the cracks, which makes Ben’s wanton defence mechanism even more intriguing. Douglas also has a remarkable rapport with his co-stars, particularly Danny DeVito, Jesse Eisenberg, and Sarandon, so Ben’s follies are equal parts amusement and absorption. With this scathingly funny and complex exercise in character, Solitary Man proves that no man is an island, but one man can also make for a great show.