Solitary Man? More like solo act: This wry and often funny character study is nothing more or less than a showcase for Douglas, who approaches this material with nothing to prove and no interest in stretching. It’s territory he’s covered before: Hapless car dealer Ben Kalmen crosses the ego of a Gordon Gekko with a dash of the middle-age anxieties of Wonder Boys’s Grady Tripp. Ben is infamous throughout Manhattan—and apparently the entire Northeast—for getting caught in a bookkeeping scam. Separated from his wife (Sarandon) and increasingly oblivious to his daughter (Fischer) and grandson, he dates a divorced socialite (Parker) for her money and connections. (What is this, Edith Wharton’s New York?) He’s also, at around 60, an eager womanizer and seemingly irresistible to the opposite sex, which means his assignment to accompany his girlfriend’s daughter (Poots) to an interview at his alma mater can’t end well.
Returning to college is illuminating for Ben, who ropes in an enabler (Eisenberg) and lectures him on how youth is wasted on the young. It’s clear that underneath his confidence, Ben is meant to be pathetic—a poignant message, but also one that’s clear to us long before it’s clear to Ben. Despite many great bits, Solitary Man lacks a satisfying second half. (The heart-disease motif seems like a particular cop-out, an easy way of rationalizing Ben’s ongoing self-destruction.) Ben has no one to blame but himself for his troubles, but—in depicting a state of emotional arrest—the directors manage to box themselves in even more.