Solitary Man Movie Review: The Boyfriend Experience

Who humans mate with and why is a complicated affair, with everyone from shrinks to anthropologists tending to weigh in. Which is why the simplistically conceived Solitary Man about an aging womanizer, lacks the seductive skills to persuade regarding sincerity and any raw truths, at least for this skeptical female critic.

In other words, with the narrative deck so enormously stacked against this way out of control fiftysomething sex addict, and whom even Michael Douglas as that distasteful character seems to be holding at arm’s length as if the guy had some communicable disease, even negative identification with the protagonist is a lost cause. Which tends to make one mull less about what makes the gabby predator tick, than wonder what’s possibly going on in Douglas’ mind and related personal starter wife/ younger woman issues in his own life, to render his performance on the decidedly defensive side.

Directed by David Levien and the screenwriter Brian Koppelman, the team that also wrote the escort service love for hire mood piece, The Girlfriend Experience, Solitary Man focuses in on the chaotic and crumbling daily life of Ben (Michael Douglas). He’s a former successful businessman making the cover of Forbes, whose high end car dealership was lost due to his own con games. And Ben has also just been handed a bombshell medical diagnosis, that he’s got a serious heart ailment.

But Ben is too obsessed about advancing age and inevitable loss of his male powers of seduction down the line, to care much about anything else. Which is why he admonishes his own dismayed adult daughter not to call him ‘dad’ in public, and pretend she’s his wife instead. And as his financial, legal and medical troubles mount, Ben emotionally compensates by applying his perfected career cons to pursuing increasingly younger women. Until the sexual danger junkie finds himself busted in front of his wealthy girlfriend (Mary-Louise Parker) by his latest sexual target, her teenage daughter Allyson (Imogen Poots).

Lacking income and any sympathy from his admonishing ex-wife (Susan Sarandon), Ben retreats back in time to his former college town where Allyson happens to be enrolled, and takes a job waiting tables in a local deli owned by an old friend, Jimmy (Danny DeVito). And Jimmy happens to be designated as the most positive male role model in this movie, because he dispenses female advice like this to his impulsive pal: ‘Who needs all those women, they don’t stay the way they are. They put on pounds and wrinkles, and I’ve got one like that at home.’ Nice.

And still unable to keep his voracious libido in check, Ben is soon turning campus party animal and making inappropriate advances on coeds. While simultaneously dispensing unsolicited sex education of sorts, when not preying on the girlfriend of trusting vulnerable student, Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg).

Solitary Man suffers from being far too over the top in incessantly demonizing its protagonist, who excels in delivering speeches instead of emotional clarity, while at the same time providing no evidence as to Ben’s supposed irresistible powers over women. When in reality, the main attraction for such women to over-the-hill men is money and/or fame, neither of which asset can be claimed by this character. Resulting in a rather remotely conveyed story lacking any social or dramatic anchor in its surroundings. Solitary, indeed.

Anchor Bay Films

Rated R

1 1/2 stars

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.