Written by Pollo Misterioso
It is sometimes a difficult task bringing true stories to the silver screen; the drama that must translate falls short of cinematic expectations. Simply put, real life is different than the movies. The Soloist based off the book and real life experiences of L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez and his friendship with Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, Jr., touches on inspiring connections that are relatable but also falls slightly flat of pure satisfaction.
I must preface this by saying that I am a classical musician myself. Having this understanding and training did not necessarily enhance my experience with the film anymore than someone that simply loves music and the power that it has to move people. That being said, The Soloist brilliantly uses music as more than just a soundtrack, but as part of the film’s experience.
The story goes that while Lopez was looking for a new column idea, he stumbled across Ayers playing a violin with two strings in Los Angeles. After watching him play for a while, he introduced himself, interested in forming a relationship and a story idea. After doing more research, Lopez found out that Ayres had attended Julliard School of Music for cello and after he dropped out because of a mental breakdown, he has been living on the streets. His column on Ayers became a critical piece on the homeless situation in Los Angeles and brought Ayres a certain amount of fame and opportunity, including a cello from an inspired reader of the column.
The film is well cast with powerhouse stars Robert Downy Jr. as Steve Lopez and Jamie Foxx as Mr. Ayers. Both act wonderfully together, really complementing their idiosyncrasies; the quirkiness of Lopez and the unpredictability of Ayres make a great duo.
The third character in the film is Los Angeles, herself. The classical music plays over sweeping shots of her freeways, of the buildings that make up downtown and the people that inhabit her streets, this being her homeless citizens. In Lopez’s struggle to help Ayers he sees a larger problem—all the homeless in Los Angeles. But here it falls short, we are exposed to the problem but never really dig any deeper.
Although the film is about two men and the relationship that forms, it would have been nice to see more of Nathaniel and his situation. Of course, this is difficult when the perspective comes from Lopez, but it is Ayers’ story that is so inspiring.
One of the most powerful and daring scenes in the film is when Lopez and Ayers are sitting in the practice hall of the L.A. Philharmonic. Director Joe Wright tries to bring weight and understanding to the music when he cuts from the two men sitting, to a black screen with colored light flashing to the music. Much like a moment from Fantasia, it is a beautiful way to draw attention to the music and really force the audience into listening.
The Soloist is about the power of music and even the beauty that comes from passionately doing what you love. In the struggle to help one another, Lopez learns how to truly build a relationship that brings joy to himself and others and Ayers learns to let others into his world. The narration at the end of the film has Lopez saying that he doesn’t really know if what he has done has really helped Ayers at all. But if he helped him find music again, he has found some sense of peace and that is all he needs.
There are some great DVD extras that should not be missed. Along with director commentary and a “Making of” segment, one of the most interesting is a live interview with the real Steve Lopez and Nathanial Ayers called “Kindness, Courtesy and Respect: Mr. Ayers + Mr. Lopez”. It is truly remarkable to see them interact together. There are deleted scenes and another interesting extra is entitled “Beth” which is a short animated PSA film, narrated by a child, about a girl that becomes homeless. This ties nicely with the extra “One Size Does Not Fit All: Addressing Homelessness in America”.