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Review: The Soloist **

The Soloist is not the inspirational basket of hope that its trailer implies. Instead, we have two actors working hard for Oscar nominations in a film that doesn’t know what it wants to accomplish. Like its main character, The Soloist has something to offer, but spends most of its time schizophrenic and confused.

It’s based mostly on true events. A struggling reporter, Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.), sees a story in a homeless schizophrenic man, Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx). Lopez hears him playing a violin. He plays excessively well for a man with two strings on his violin. When Lopez starts up a conversation, Ayers mentions that he was once enrolled in Juilliard School of Music but has “had a few setbacks.” Ayers now roams around the city with a shopping cart full of his valuables, playing in areas somewhat absent of human traffic.

Lopez follows him around, writes a column about him, then another, then another. After a few weeks, Lopez stops writing about much else and starts following Ayers full time. The column is a hit for his paper, The Los Angeles Times, which needs the readers: the paper is laying off employees left and right, a commonplace across the country today as the nation goes digital. Oddly, Lopez is portrayed as divorced with commitment issues, but was happily married in real life.

And so, reporter Steve Lopez begins trying to help Nathaniel Ayers get back on his feet. He brings Ayers a cello, befriends him, and tries to help him rejoin society. In one scene, he takes Ayers to see a full orchestra at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. As Ayers listens and closes his eyes, a rainbow of colors pulse and frolic around a black screen. The effect works, showing how music opens up a new world for Ayers. It is very similar to how Remy experiences food in Pixar’s Ratatouille.

Lopez introduces Ayers to the homeless agency Lamp, which is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit agency that helps people with severe mental illness move off the streets into homes. This is where the film drifts off course. Several PSAs (public service announcement) worth of attention is paid toward how bad the homeless situation is in Los Angeles. Another several PSAs worth of time is spent showing how the police and government take the wrong steps to combat it. These scenes exist because it is politically correct to include them, but many don’t help us understand Nathaniel Ayers. In the end, we aren’t any closer to understanding Nathaniel Ayers as we were when Steve Lopez first met him.

Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx should take no blame. Both perform superbly, perhaps they thought The Soloist might be an Oscar contender. It was slated to hit theaters in late 2008, after all. Paramount pushed its release to April 2009, thinking it could be a commercial hit. April kicks off of the summer blockbuster season.

Director Joe Wright can’t seem to decide the story he wants to tell. The film is marketed as classic Hollywood “help this guy get back on his feet” summer romp, but never delivers on that promise. I’m all for movies trying to accomplish many objectives at once, but only if the end product works. Here, it doesn’t.

Nathaniel Ayers has gained a friend, which is great. If its opening weekend box office numbers are indicative, The Soloist could use one.

Reader Comments (1)

I agree with this so much. I didn't really "get" this movie. I thought RDJ gave a good performance though.

Write more reviews!! :) I love reading your stuff.

June 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJaclyn

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