Aging is not kind to anyone. Getting older means accepting certain truths, one of which is that if you are disrespectful to those you love, you will end up all alone. The title “Solitary Man” quite literally describes the life of its protagonist Ben Kalmen.
The washed up businessman is merely a shell of his former self. Once respected in the community for his successful car dealerships, Kalmen mysteriously threw it all away with scandalous practices and adulterous affairs.
Kalmen dates a rich younger woman (Mary Louise Parker) so that he can use her connections to revive his career. He spends his time on the side philandering though with any pretty young thing he can get his hands on. While he desperately tries to keep up appearances as someone important, he barely can afford his own life. His self-centered nature affects his daughter (Jenna Fischer) and his grandson who he makes little time for.
A trip back to his alma mater with his girlfriend’s college bound daughter (Imogen Poots), reawakens a sense of nostalgia in him that starts to influence him increasingly with each passing day. Kalmen crosses paths with an awkward student Cheston (Jesse Eisenberg) who he mentors in the pursuit of the opposite sex. For Cheston, Ben becomes a sagely figure and someone to look up to.
Ben’s brush with his college days, regress him emotionally as well as lead him further down a path of egocentric behavior and self-destruction. Kalmen’s life spirals further out of control further alienating the few people who still care about him. The only person willing to take him in is an old college acquaintance played by the kind-hearted Danny DeVito.
Hitting rock bottom is the only method for Ben to realize the error of his ways and to start making a change in his life. Interestingly enough his college town represents a regression for him, but also a place that centers him and allows for a new coming of age. It reminds him what’s really important in life and allows him to reflect on the mistakes he has made.
One of the most difficult aspects of watching this film is trying to sympathize with a character making bad life decisions. It’s so hard to feel bad for Ben Kalmen because he is so careless about what he does. His age and his wisdom shine through however in a few moments where he is talking to Cheston, and you really feel like he has some good advice.
Michael Douglas is perfectly cast in his role as Ben Kalmen, showing that he can play a character completely oblivious to his own sleaziness. You can’t help feeling like even if he has a redeeming moment that he still might not even grasp the weight of everything he has done.
Jesse Eisenberg is slightly less awkward as Cheston than his usual characters, which hopefully shows a shift from away from his typecasting. Danny DeVito also stands out as Ben’s friend from the old days. He has a certain genuine quality and loyalty to this man that’s admirable despite all that Kalmen has done.
This film is labeled as a drama and comedy but there are not many laughs to be found. Mostly its tone stays on the serious side, which feels more appropriate considering the type of character Michael Douglas portrays. At the end of the day its clear Kalmen learned a thing or two but just exactly how it will impact him moving forward is left open for your interpretation.
My Grade: B
Photo Credits: Michael Douglas and Jesse Eisenberg in "Solitary Man"