Wednesday, May 13, 2009

5/10/09: The Soloist (2009)

GRAB BAG
Ever looked at a homeless person and wonder about that person's backstory? What happened to make him lose his way? That's the basic idea behind The Soloist, a reality-based film that starts reasonably well but gradually loses its own way.

Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) is homeless, schizophrenic and enormously talented. He's a wizard with any musical instrument he picks up, especially the cello. L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) meets him on the street and is immediately drawn to his proficiency on the violin, even though it's missing a couple of strings. Ignoring the fact that Ayers is missing a couple of strings himself (he babbles incoherently and pushes a large shopping cart full of junk), Lopez starts writing a column about him and gradually tries to "civilize" him by getting him a room to live in and maybe start taking some medication. But as any idiot knows, you can't civilize people who don't want to be civilized. At first Ayers looks upon his new friend as a kind of God, but when Lopez tries to make too many personal changes in his life, disaster strikes.

The Soloist tries to show us what it's like inside the mind of a schizophrenic (they hear lots of spooky, echoey voices) and, in one interminable sequence, we're even shown what classical music must "look" like inside Ayers' head. (Joan, my constant movie companion, swears it's the screen saver built into Widows Media Player). The best thing about The Soloist is the acting of Robert Downey Jr., who is electrifying in virtually everything he's in; he can be funny and charming and dramatic all at the same time. Unfortunately, the film is excruciatingly long, with more than a couple of dull passages that fail to move the narrative forward. Ultimately, the movie's message seems to be that it's extremely noble to try to help the homeless—providing they possess some otherworldly talent. Otherwise, screw 'em. Rating: 2/5.

1 comment:

Joan said...

Actually, I think it's called the "Visualization" option of Windows Media Player (not screen saver). Regardless, I find it to be annoying, and I always turn it off. So, when this movie suddenly started showing colorful pulsing shapes to represent what music supposedly looks like to this schizophrenic musical genius, I thought, "Why are they showing me Windows Media Player?" And when it went on forever, I started laughing, and the longer it went on, the more I laughed -- clearly not what they intended.

However, that said, this is another movie that I liked a lot better than you did. The story kept me engaged and the use of music worked on me (other than the silly images described above). I also disagree with you about what you found to be the inadvertent message of the picture:

"Ultimately, the movie's message seems to be that it's extremely noble to try to help the homeless—providing they possess some otherworldly talent. Otherwise, screw 'em."

The reason that the journalist would only be interested in a homeless person who is extraordinary is some way is that he's after a story. The real hero of the story, morally speaking, is the guy who runs the Lamp Community. He helps everyone who comes in for help. They don't have to be talented.

This movie is based on a true story, and it did bother me when I found out that Steve Lopez (the journalist played by Robert Downey Jr.) is actually happily married with an adorable child -- not divorced as depicted in the movie. I guess they felt they needed to give the movie more drama and conflict. Lopez says he was OK with this choice. I wonder how his wife felt watching the film at the premiere.