60 is the new 40: Solitary Man ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 22, 2010)

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Michael Douglas dispenses some not-so-sage advice to Jesse Eisenberg.

Did you know that the average human life expectancy in the Neolithic era was 20? Which means that you would have your midlife crisis around what…age 10? Of course, 12,000 years later, thanks to advances in medicine, science and technology, that number skews a bit higher now. This probably accounts for 65-year old Michael Douglas getting away with portraying a 60 year-old who is suffering a midlife crisis, in the film Solitary Man.

Douglas is Ben, a divorced 60-year old New Yorker at a personal and professional crossroads. His physician has given him sobering health news. However, having a bad ticker (and a ticking clock) is the least of his problems. A classic narcissist, Ben’s main concern is not that he might be “going” any time now, but that he may not get to go out with the most toys.

You see, Ben’s a “used to be”. He used to be a successful car dealer, but lost the franchise due to unethical business practices. He used to have a lot of money, but the resulting legal expenses decimated most of his net worth. He used to be married to lovely and supportive Nancy (Susan Sarandon) but blew it with serial philandering. He’s not a likeable guy. He is a “closer”- on the car lot, or on the pull.

His girlfriend, Jordan (Mary-Louise Parker), is a well-connected Upper East Side divorcee with a college-bound daughter named Allyson (Imogen Poots). Ben accompanies Allyson to his alma mater; Jordan has asked Ben to use his pull with the dean to assure admittance. The dean used to be happy to see him, when he was a benefactor (the campus library carries Ben’s name), but his public fall from grace in the business community has made him a pariah.

To paraphrase Steely Dan-the weekend at the college doesn’t turn out like they planned. Ben’s penchant for getting himself into hot water gets the better of him. We spend the rest of the film watching self-sabotaging Ben crawl slowly from the wreckage of his life.

Director-screenwriter Brian Koppelman and co-director David Levien navigate the tricky waters of “dramedy” on a fairly even keel. It’s  a fine performance by Douglas (no one plays a self-serving prick as convincingly as Douglas …remember Gordon Gekko?).  Danny Devito is reunited with Douglas in an engaging supporting role, and Jesse Eisenberg once again plays, erm, Jesse Eisenberg…or maybe he’s playing Michael Cera (or perhaps those two young men represent a new paradigm in post-modern acting too subtle for me?).

I would have liked to have seen more scenes with Sarandon and Louise-Parker, those two wonderful actresses feel under-utilized; but this project was obviously developed as a showcase for Douglas, so it is what it is, and I accepted it as such. I find myself becoming more accepting as I get older. Besides, according to this film, I still have about six more carefree years before my midlife crisis.

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