Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 2009. Millennium Films, Paul Schiff Productions, Smartest Man Productions. Screenplay by Brian Koppelman. Cinematography by Alwin H. Kuchler. Produced by Donna Golomb, Heidi Jo Markel, Paul Schiff, Steven Soderbergh. Music by Michael Penn. Production Design by Robert Pearson. Costume Design by Jenny Gering. Film Editing by Tricia Cooke. Toronto International Film Festival 2009.
Michael Douglas has seen better days in this sober comedy/drama; he was once a kingpin car dealer with a Midas-level touch and cash to burn. Now he has been destroyed by a fraud scandal, harassed by his doctors about his spotty health, and acting like a dirty old man chasing after every young woman in a tight skirt that he can get his hands on. When he accompanies his girlfriend’s daughter (Imogen Poots, whose talent does not extend to playing Americans convincingly) to her college interview and then beds her too, it takes him to his lowest possible situation, abandoned by friends and hated by his enemies. At this point even his daughter (Jenna Fischer, who is wonderful) gives up on trying to deal with him and starts to cut him off. The only spots of light are a mentor-student relationship he develops with a college junior (Jesse Eisenberg) and reconnecting with a friend from his school days (Danny DeVito) who runs the campus diner. It’s an odd combination of elements, a rehashing of Wonder Boys with shades of Roger Dodger thrown in, but it maintains its tone of humour well enough throughout that its lack of narrative focus is easily forgiven. The performances don’t hurt either, with Douglas using his usual I-should-know-better charm to great effect and Susan Sarandon making gold out of her few moments as his ex-wife. All the situations feel so real, and the focus on the development of his character is so strong that the painful familiarity of the endeavour is easily forgiven.