Thursday, June 10, 2010

Behaving Badly with Michael Douglas: "Solitary Man"

A Princess Tries to Save Hawaii

Michael Douglas was born to play a cad.
Later this summer we will see him as Gordon Gekko, his greatest cad, in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”
For now you can see him as a lesser but no less reprehensible cad in “Solitary Man.”
The tone is set by Johnny Cash’s wrenching rendition of Neil Diamond’s self-pitying “Solitary Man.”
We get a brief glimpse of Ben Kalmen (Douglas) at the peak of his game six and a half years prior to the main story. He is “New York’s Honest Car Dealer” loved by all, especially his wife Nancy (Susan Sarandon) and daughter Susan (Jenna Fisher).
In a routine physical, Ben learns there is “something wonky” with his EKG, and the doctor urges further tests.
A normal man would heed the doctor’s advice and see what’s up.
Not Ben. He’s a deal-maker and a risk-taker, so he decides that’s it, I’m done with doctors.
So begins the six-year slide where we meet Ben near the bottom in this script by director Brian Koppelman and David Levien. He has divorced Nancy and taken up with Jordan (Mary Louise Parker), a younger woman with a college-age daughter, Allyson (Amanda Poot).
In a bid to show he still has clout, Ben says he will “pull some strings” at the Massachusetts college which is his alma mater and has a building named after him.
In reality Ben no longer has the wherewithal to pay his American Express bill. He was flagged for illegal hanky-panky in his car business, spent a night in jail and paid a large fine.
Again, a normal man would have picked himself up and attempted to rebuild his reputation, but not Ben. Instead he has engaged in reckless sex with young women and hits up every friend he knows for loans, to the extent he has no friends left except for Jimmy (Danny Devito), a hard-working buddy who runs the diner his dad passed on to him in that Massachusetts college town.
Believe it or not, “Solitary Man” is a comedy; a very dark comedy about a man behaving very badly and very foolishly. Only an actor with Douglas’s charm could keep us from despising him from the outset.
This movie will no doubt upset some people. I choose to see it as a cautionary tale about the refusal to face the reality of aging and the refusal to take responsibility for one’s destructive behavior. It’s not easy to watch, but it is Douglas’ best dramatic work since “Falling Down” in 1993.

Three stars

Princess Kaiulani at Regal Delray

“Princess Kaiulani” was the opening film at the 15th annual Palm Beach International Film Festival. Now it is opening in limited release in area theaters including the Regal Delray.
A little knowledge about Hawaiian history is helpful in appreciating this sumptuous but not very exciting movie.
Princess Kaiulani (Q’orilanka Kilcher) was born into Hawaiian royalty in the late 19th century just as the USA and private business interests were conspiring to colonize the beautiful Polynesian islands for profit and military strategy.
Educated in exile in England, the spunky Princess returned to her native islands to fight for the rights of its original inhabitants. Because of the bravery and perseverance of Princess Kaiulani, some of the excesses of colonialism were averted and the good name of Hawaiian royalty was upheld.
I know all this because my mom lived in Hawaii for six years, immediately before and after the horrors of World War II. One of her friends was Duke Kahanamoku, who was not a member of Hawaiian royalty but is a true American hero. This movie is a gorgeous tribute to Hawaii’s proud native history.