May

23

 A SOLITARY MAN

Directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien

Some may enjoy a sleaze getting his comeuppance, and this film is a PhD in a lowlife Gordon Gekko-type as he wends his way through ex-wives, girlfriends with too much savvy to buy into his act for the whole three acts, daughters and ex-colleagues. The film makes the title character so repulsive that sitting in an audience, watching the permutations of pick-up lines and faded ego, makes the viewer cringe. This biopic of a once-powerful car dealer with money to burn and a metabolism to match, fallen on very sour times from a scam gone even wronger with family and friends, stars the perfect cad for the role, Michael Douglas as used-car czar, Ben Kalmen, in all his in-glory. Disgraced car salesman Kalmen works the same venues and beds, or newer beds, with not-so-acceptable sheetmates, but the magic doesn’t quite cut it any more.

Kalmen’s compulsive womanizing and callous bastardy burns through his intimate relationships with ex-wife Susan Sarandon—superb as the most understanding and incisive ex-wife in a film this month–an empathic daughter, maybe uncomfortably close, played by Jenna Fischer (best known from her diffident role in “The Office”), his current top-tier inamorata, an icy Mary-Louise Parker, and assorted improbable and inappropriate others, including newcomer Imogen Poots, who has Casanova-bedhopper’s number, despite her collegiate youth.

The overwhelming emotion felt during the two hours is embarrassment, though some may not react that way, admiring his mojo even in a corner–when the last dollar is gone, the last deal foreclosed by the last-chance girlfriend. Luckily, Douglas appears next week in WALL STREET 2: Money Never Sleeps, so he may redeem himself from this squirminess in short order. Why did he accept this assignment, one has to wonder. All sense of moral compass is vacated in this shvitzer, but each of the other characters highlights his casual moral squalor. Anything to polish the knob, catch a deal, seal the connection.

Brian Koppelman's screenplay lets the thoughtful summarize the characterological kinks in each of the well-drawn cast. Everyone is assessing each other, forcing the viewer to size up the character and measure his take against the character’s reading of the other. It does not permit the sense of the story as a whole to gain power or accumulate, since we are so wary, and they are so hyper-alert. Somewhere along the way, scraping very near the bottom of his botched second and third chances, he calls on Danny DeVito, an old friend who runs the campus diner at his alma mater (filmed at Fordham Bronx, standing in for somewhere else). Danny takes him in when there’s nowhere else. But why does Kalmen accept the comedown? It is the only recent film where you expect a suicide. You sort of hope he finishes with a flourish.

Douglas' easygoing performance just this side of blackness has its moments, pyramided on our long association with his vicarious monied machers. Fascination as to how long and hard this plummet will last echoes a child’s watching a fly expire under the slow scorch of the magnifier in the sun. A modern man bent on his hedonic tropisms, he doesn’t see himself in the aspic of self-destruction. Always donning a great shirt and tie, swooped-back pepper-and-salt hair carrying the weight of his lothario eyes and vulnerable if hungry mouth. he assumes he can always score.

Maybe titled after Neil Diamond’s air, A Solitary Man leaves a greasy, unwholesome aftertaste, beyond all the great turns of the high-ticket cast. We no longer empathize with this sad scaffold of a once-successful man. He hasn’t paid his dues, or he doesn’t see the need to pay them.


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