Holy Rollers fuses a somber, old-world palette with a jittery urban unease—a good mix of tones. It’s also wonderfully acted. Eisenberg is peerless at playing man-boys who overintellectualize and fall over their own feet. Bartha is irresistibly good-bad company. The problem is that Asch depicts Sam’s situation as either/or—i.e., a choice between reading Torah and making babies or smuggling drugs and going to jail. The film never raises the sure-to-ruffle-feathers question of how fundamentalist outsider cultures sometimes foster secrecy and deception. It’s too holy in its certainties, like those fifties sex-ed films where you don’t listen to Dad and wind up with chlamydia.
Solitary Man is another routine morality play, this time the aging-Lothario-gets-his-comeuppance number. But it’s smoothly written and smartly paced, and Michael Douglas is riveting. Douglas has had, at various times, a horndog reputation, he’s the son of a legendary world-beating horndog, and something in his dimpled chin-smirk will always signal “I get more than a toilet seat.” As felonious car dealer Ben Kalmen, he uses his star vanity to generate an amazing amount of sympathy for this incorrigible lech—especially when the younger actors gaze on him with pity and contempt and we think, “Hey, he’s not so bad … ” Among the supporting actors who worship Douglas, even as they feign contempt, Olivia Thirlby is especially eloquent. Jesse Eisenberg (yes, again) plays the gawky kid Douglas tutors in the art of the pickup—a role he first played in Roger Dodger. But his excellent final scenes, after his character has gotten laid, suggest there’s life for this fine young actor after virginity.
* Several readers have brought it forcefully to my attention that the word "squaw" is not a quaint residue of old Westerns as I had thought but an offensive slur, both racially and sexually charged. I apologize for its use in the above description.