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Solitary Man

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,

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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

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