starring Michael Douglas, Mary-Louise Parker, Jenna Fischer, Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots, Susan Sarandon and Danny DeVito
written by Brian Koppelman
directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien
This is the story of wealthy entrepreneur New York City car salesman Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas) experiencing a severe late mid-life crisis. He loses his business, and then his family, in a scandal that bankrupts him. His fall starts with the shock of a soberingly unfavorable health check up. He turns to much younger women, reveling in the seduction of college co-eds like a game, in a doomed bid to cheat death and preserve his self image as a Master of the Universe all the while oblivious or uncaring of how it looks to people around him - his daughter, his grandson, other college-aged men and women, etc. Michael Douglas is great for this role. He’s an aging guy who still looks good. I personally know young women who say they would “do him.” And Al Pacino, too. Douglas also has a history of ‘sexual addiction’ in his real life, but that may be beside the point.
Now Ben Kalmen is on the verge of a business comeback. But he fails because of interference from a vengeful ex-girlfriend who just happens to have the power, through family connections, to smooth his way or to block it. I yearn for him to make a new success of his life but it just doesn’t happen. There is a great deal of sadness underlying his character. The story does not end with redemption, nor rehabilitation but only with the promise of them through the compassion of friends and family. It disproves Ben’s shallow adherence to the conviction that “at your highest moments, and your lowest, you’re alone.” Ben thinks he’s alone, but at his most desperate he finds that no man is an island (John Donne). And thank goodness for that.
The story has rich characters well played by an ensemble cast. The characters make this film worth watching more than the story. The story itself, which is an old and universal one, is continually played out in Woody Allen films (to decreasing effect as the years pass). I almost did not rent the DVD because of Jesse Eisenberg’s participation. Eisenberg is an actor definitely headed for great stardom, so maybe I sound unfair. However, despite his talent I think his voice, his hair, his posture and the way he moves his body are so annoying that I have to be very wary of any film he is in - evenThe Social Network, which was such a big and successful film for him.
I’ve spent years watching and thinking about how actors move their bodies on film. That, more than the beauty of their features, the proportions of their bodies, or the quality of their voices, is the thing that makes them good actors. It’s the way they fill or occupy the space around them, how they stand and walk, what they do with their hands, how they set and turn their shoulders and heads, etc. That talent allows them immediately to dominate their environment and the people in it, even if they have shortcomings in stature or esthetics. After watching Michael Douglas in dozens of movies I’m sure that it’s what he does with his hands, arms and torso while speaking that do it for him. (That, plus his longish, Michael Landon hair style.) When he speaks he consistently tends to lean his torso back slightly and raise both arms - like a gesticulating Italian - in a “come closer” motion, or a gesture that tells us about his basically gregarious relationship to the world and positive, convivial demeanor. Michael Douglas excels at Prince of Darkness roles, though, so his friendly, inviting body language is like flypaper.