Solitary Man (Anchor Bay) – Add Michael Douglas to the long list of actors who simply get more interesting as they age farther out of leading man roles. For this role, he loses the self-effacing humor of the charming tongue-in-cheek cockiness he brought to Romancing the Stone for the droll comedy of desperation in an once-celebrated businessman and happy husband and father who tossed in the towel of responsibility and commitment for a life of immediate gratification and paid the price: divorce, distrust and financial ruin. His Ben Kalmen is all smooth charm and charismatic confidence and more that a little vain, all of which Douglas captures without professional vanity or theatrical distance on his part. Even in Ben’s most pathetic moments and disappointing acts, Douglas never drops the charm or the confidence, his greed or lust or simple arrogance pumping up beyond caring when confronted with his own sleaze.
Susan Sarandon co-stars as his ex-wife, with whom he is on astoundingly good terms since repeatedly cheating on her before their divorce, and I wish Danny DeVito had more to do as an old college buddy who remained behind to run the family coffee house and grill. Jesse Eisenberg does his overeager pup thing as Ben’s student chaperone on a campus visit and for a while the dynamic recalls his breakthrough role in Roger Dodger, with Douglas handing out the dubious advice on dating and sexual politics, but in this case he’s just another slice of youth that Ben uses to convince himself he’s still young at heart while simultaneously building his ego as the charmer of an elder statesman holding court. Mary-Louise Parker, Jenna Fischer and Imogen Poots are some of the other friends, family members and lovers he doesn’t fail to disappoint. There’s nothing particularly deep in the film’s insights to male vanity and mortality, but Douglas makes it a riveting character study of a man spending his life seducing everyone he meets so he doesn’t have to face himself.