Directed By: Joe Wright (Golden Globe winner for Best Drama and Oscar® nominee for Best Picture “Atonement”)
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr., Catherine Keener
Rated: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some drug use and language
Runtime: 119 Minutes
When I lived in Washington D.C., more than a decade ago, I would give most of my paycheck to the homeless. When I went out to lunch with groups, I made my co-worker box up the remains of their half eaten fancy lunches and I’d hand out the leftovers on the street to those who were hungry. People were always so grateful. Once a homeless woman told me that she didn’t want the fish, and she turned her nose up, but she did agree take the veggie pasta. I was a taken back, marveling at the audacity of this woman, who had nothing, to be choosey, and to frown at good, free chow.
From that encounter, I learned a great lesson: just because the older woman, who looked like “somebody’s grandmother”, was homeless, it did not mean that she was not allowed to have choices and opinions. Just because she was in need did not remove her right to options and preferences. That is easy to forget in our society, which treats the homeless like forgotten citizens of a third world country.
While watching the film The Soloist, I was reminded of my young idealism and dedication to those less fortunate than myself. Today, in the midst of a tough economy, my heart goes out, because when the upper and middle classes suffer, the homeless really have a tough time of it.
In the colorfully adapted true tale of Los Angeles Times reporter Steve Lopez, a reporter chasing a story, finds inspiration in that story’s main character, Nathaniel Ayers. A former Julliard scholar, Ayers spends his life living on the streets with a pretty severe case of schizophrenia and a love for his Cello. Foxx has completely captured the spirit of this character without over-dramatization. As always, Downey Jr. is strong and natural, in his portrayal of Lopez, a reporter that allows his heart to guide him into an unusual relationship which relies on trust, charity, and stick-to-itiveness.
The talented Catherine Keener, is Mary Weston, Lopez’s editor and love interest. Keener is wasted as a “she-prop”, and while it is always great to see her on the big screen, her odd exchanges with Lopez could have used more substance.
The challenging part of The Soloist is its speed. Director Joe Wright tries so hard to be thorough about character development that he forgot an audience is watching. Viewers who want the story to move along! In a particularly painful segment of the film, kaleidoscope lights accompanied orchestral music in an effort to illustrate the Ayers emotions when he hears music. Creative? Yes! Boring? Double Yes!
In addition to music, and misguided lives The Soloist focuses on homelessness in Los Angeles. Astoundingly, part of the heart of this film are the homeless characters featured as supporting cast. A far cry from any Hollywood prototype, The Soloist, shines a new attitude on the face of homelessness, and mental health challenges. Shockingly, the film revealed that more than 90,000 homeless people live on the rough streets of Los Angeles. All with their own story, and struggles, the homeless exist on the streets of one of the largest cities in America. Who knew?
The soloist reminds us that only in working together, caring about that individual you would just as soon ignore, thinking beyond ourselves, only then can we move forward as a community.
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