FILM RATING: 3.5 stars
For my free Redbox rental this month, I chose Michael Douglas’ Solitary Man (2009) on DVD. I’ve read some good reviews for the film this year as well as heard good things about it. And the movie definitely did not disappoint. It’s a very good character-driven dramedy (3.5 stars out of 5). There’s more comedy in it than you would expect. I seem to be giving a lot of movies 3.5 stars this year…which is a good thing. It means 2010 has been a better than average year for film…at least for me as a viewer. I’m also watching more films now with easy access to DVD and online/on demand rentals. The smaller films that don’t get much of a theatrical distribution anymore are easier to find and enjoy as rentals. Solitary Man is one of those films that got missed if you blinked in the theaters. And to be honest, aren’t we all watching more movies at home now than in the theaters anyways? I mean matinees are $7 in the theater…what used to be the primetime price. You can rent 7 movies at Redbox for that price! Sure you have to wait 6 months, but that doesn’t seem that long anymore to me.
The story of Solitary Man centers around Michael Douglas’ character Ben Kalmen, a single, divorced, father/grandfather whose life changes after he goes to the doctor for a physical and hears concern about his health. Ben doesn’t want to know any news about his health…period. He’s in control of his life and isn’t going to let some doctor change that. So he ignores the doctor’s request for further tests and instead starts taking big risks with all areas of his life, simply to make sure he goes out with a bang. After years of being the honest and steady Lion at the top of his game, both in terms of his career and his love life, now things are changing for Ben. His ex-wife Nancy, played with great finesse by Susan Sarandon, still loves him…and would take him back if Ben wanted that. But Ben doesn’t know what he wants. We follow Ben through the movie as he continues to screw (both literally and figuratively) with his life and the remaining people in it.
One of my favorite scenes from the film is between Douglas and Sarandon. While visiting his ex-wife Nancy to ask for her help, Ben notices that she hasn’t changed anything in the condo where the two of them used to live together. Not even the pillows on the old sofa. In response, Nancy says to Ben: “I don’t change things when they’re still working. That’s your move.” And with those tart words, Ben is reminded of his failures.
It’s fun and a bit painful to watch Douglas play this character at this stage in his career. Just like Ben, Douglas was at the top of his acting game in movies for many years. But he’s gone through a similar phase in his own life, taking risks that didn’t pay off, simply losing status as he got older, and now fighting health concerns (he was recently diagnosed with very serious throat cancer). But Solitary Man is a return of Douglas to his glory days of acting. You just can’t help but like the guy (both his character and the actor). We even get a little movie nostalgia with the cameo appearance of Danny DeVito as Ben’s old, and last, friend, who takes him in when he desperately needs some place to stay. DeVito and Douglas’ on screen chemistry harkens back to the days of Romancing the Stone (1984) and The Jewel of the Nile (1995). It’s a great role for DeVito and reminds me what a talented actor he is, especially when given well-written roles.
Many of us, myself included, have had similar experiences of falling from our perches as Kings-of-the-Hill in our careers due to the last few years of the Great Recession. And I think the timeliness of this film is very appropriate. Even though Ben is 30 years my senior, I really related to him as he watches the things that he spent many years building, fall apart. It’s tough to start over as we get older. After a certain point, life tends to favor youth when it comes to new opportunities and change. But anything is possible. And Solitary Man leaves you wondering what will happen next for Ben…as well as for yourself.