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Brian Koppelman and David Levien Together Again For “Solitary Man”

Brian Koppelman and David Levien Together Again For “Solitary Man” (photo)

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After penning the scripts for “Ocean’s 13” and “Rounders,” Brian Koppelman and David Levien have turned their attention to the worst con of all – self-deception. In “Solitary Man,” the duo’s second directorial effort following 2001’s “Knockaround Guys,” Michael Douglas stars as Ben Kalmen, a used car baron who has seen his charms and fortune stall out like a Chevy Vega when a bad business deal and a divorce (from Susan Sarandon) leave him adrift in his 60s, with his opportunities for redemption limited to taking the teenage daughter of his girlfriend (Mary-Louise Parker) for a weekend college visit and repairing his relationship with his own daughter (Jenna Fischer) and her son. Likened to a “white-collar ‘Wrestler'” by Levien, Douglas trades heavily on his well-established iconography to play the irrepressible ladies’ man who finds that time is a crueler mistress than his several women on the side.

While Douglas is in rare form as the deeply disagreeable Kalmen, it’s Koppelman and Levien’s film as a whole that’s something of an endangered species these days – the finely tuned dramedy made for adults. As such, I didn’t ask them about “Rounders 2” or working with Brian DePalma on an “Untouchables” prequel, but instead about the difficulty of making an indie film now, as well as their fascination with macho men and New York.

How did this film come about?

Brian Koppelman: It was a screenplay I started writing three or four years before we started shooting, but it took me that whole time because normally we write as a team. I had seen a guy tell his grown daughter not to call him dad in public because it made it hard for him to pick up girls and just wrote that scene right away and wrote about 15 more pages. When Dave read it, he immediately said,” look, you have the voice of this thing and the tone. Why don’t you write it?” It took me years to finish, but once I did, Dave read it and just said “alright, well, this is done. Let’s go make it.” And then we decided to go and try to put it together to direct.

05182010_SolitaryMan2.jpgWas it different for each of you to work on something where only Brian had written the script?

BK: One of the big differences is that normally if I’m stuck, Dave is right there. It’s a rare day that both of us don’t have some idea of how to move a screenplay forward, but on this, because I was writing it myself, there definitely were days when I would go down a blind alley and not really have the way back on my own. Another difference was I think I was more critical of my own contributions when I was writing on my own because normally I can put something out there and Dave will make it better.

David Levien: I think since this thing was written totally on spec [without a contract], it was, in certain ways, an unconventional movie, as far as Hollywood would view a piece of material and Brian took a very organic approach to telling the story as opposed to getting hired by a studio to write a script and just delivering a draft in three months. There’s something about that kind of a timetable that is difficult to make an entire story really organic and by taking the time, I think it really paid dividends.

When I got the script, I hadn’t envisioned directing something that I hadn’t written because before this — we had always written stuff we directed [together] — but it was really a cool experience because I felt very objective about the material. Usually, there’s like a sense of attachment to all the effort you put in as a writer, so on this one, I didn’t have to contend with that. I could look at the material very clear-eyed and just think about how to make it the best movie that we could.

05182010_SolitaryMan3.jpgAnd David just alluded to it – is making movies for adults a tough business to be in these days?

BK: I guess it is a difficult business and I think that is exactly what David was alluding to, which is that no part of this seemed or felt or was business. This was a story that we just wanted to tell. I saw that thing happen in a park in New York, but David and I had long been thinking about and talking about characters like Ben Kalmen, guys who hold themselves out as kings of the world and what happens to men who have relied upon some kind of combination of charisma, charm, ambition, feral intelligence to achieve a position of success and what happens to them when their virility starts to diminish just a little bit and how do they make peace with that?

As far as the time in the business, it doesn’t feel like that many years ago when a movie like “Michael Clayton,” which granted had a few more like thriller-ish elements to it, but was really about a guy reckoning with an inner emptiness and questions of his own integrity and stuff like that, you know a movie like that came out to critical and commercial success, so our hope and belief is that these things are sort of cyclical and there will always be a place for dramas for adults in the marketplace.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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