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DVD Review: The Soloist

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The Soloist, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx, is based on the true story of homeless schizophrenic musician Nathaniel Ayers (Foxx). This film centers on Ayers’ relationship with L.A. Times reporter Steve Lopez (Downey). Lopez, always in pursuit of a topic for his next column, one day comes across Ayers playing his violin in a city park. Intrigued, Lopez decides to make Ayers his next subject. What follows in the movie is the ups and down of their tumultuous relationship. Ayers must grapple with the balance, what turns out to be a very thin line, between helping Ayers and exploiting him.

The premise is good, but the execution is not. The Soloist is a movie that can’t decide what it wants to be about. Is it about homelessness, mental illness, or just about Ayers? In the end it’s about nothing. The movie never really makes a point, not even to say ‘this is just a movie about Nathaniel Ayers and nothing else.’ The film tries to be about everything. While studying Ayers’, Lopez gets a first-hand view of the homeless population of Los Angeles. He also gets some insight into mental-health treatment.

Lopez is told Ayers can’t be forced into treatment because it would a violation of his civil rights. It’s an interesting question. Is it okay to allow someone to remain homeless because it would be a violation of their rights to force them into treatment? The question is posed, but never addressed again. In fact Lopez considers trying to show that Ayers is a danger to other, thus forcing him into compulsory treatment. However, when Ayers does actually prove to be a danger, Lopez does nothing. The movie never says why.

The Soloist is also about Ayers the musician. As a child, Ayers was a gifted cellist, who lost his dream due to untreated schizophrenia. It’s a tragic story that should have been the central focus of the movie. Ayers’ life is only hinted at. We don’t really get to know much about what his life was like before he crossed paths with Ayers. As a musician, Ayers’ cello-playing is haunting, sad, and beautiful. The music makes us want to get to know him better. It makes us want him to change his situation. But there is not enough of that story to really care about. Foxx, however, does do an excellent job portraying Ayers.

The Soloist portrays Ayers as a misunderstood free spirit, who triumphs through life in spite of his condition. However, I couldn’t help but feel a little empty after watching this movie. The Soloist never explores the depths of the situation. It glosses over each issue as if the audience has no choice but think any other way than the film does. The Soloist is a movie I wanted to like, but in the end I was left with a feeling of indifference.

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About Sherry Lipp

Sherry Lipp is an entertainment and food writer who specializes in film and television reviews. She has published the gluten and grain-free cookbook Don't Skip Dessert.
  • My wife and I watched this film on DVD a couple weeks ago and came away with much the same opinion that you did.

    It seemed to us that the main focus was incorrectly on Lopez. A more in depth study of Ayers’ life would have been much more interesting and, perhaps, enlightening. As you suggest, we only get the surface. The film could have been much more engrossing.

    We, too, wanted very much to see this film, but owing to its relatively short run here in Indy and our own lives taking us in other directions at the time, we missed its theatrical run. Viewing it on the small screen did it no harm. It’s not a David Lean film, afterall. But, it was, nevertheless, a disappointment.