Drive-By Movie Review: The Soloist

This is a review of the 2009 movie The Soloist, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx.

Plot Synopsis: The true-life story of Nathaniel Ayers, a former cello prodigy whose bouts with schizophrenia landed him on the streets after two years of schooling at Juilliard.

The Honeybee: I have to run some errands, so if you don’t mind I hope we can skip the witty banter today and just get right into a discussion of today’s movie.

Me: Sure, Honeybee.   Where you going?

The Honeybee: I’m taking your daughter to her piano lesson, remember?   I guess that’s appropriate because you said we are reviewing The Soloist today, right?

Me:  Yep.    In The Soloist,  Jamie Foxx plays Nathaniel Ayers, who lives on the streets of downtown Los Angeles within spitting distance of the Los Angeles Times.   There, Times columnist Steve Lopez, played by Robert Downey Jr., has a chance meeting with Ayers, who catches his attention when he hears him playing a beat-up two-stringed violin with an aplomb you wouldn’t expect from such a destitute homeless person.   Naturally, Lopez sniffs a story and goes to work uncovering how such a gifted musician could end up in such dire straits.

The Honeybee: But, it’s not just that the guy is homeless.   I’m sure there are lots of homeless musicians out there – unless you’re a superstar it’s really tough to make a living as a musician.   The more interesting trait about Ayers is that he is clearly not “all there” mentally.   So what did you think about the movie?

Me: Ultimately, I have to say I had mixed emotions.   How about you?

The Honeybee: I’m with you.   Although I liked that The Soloist tugged at your heart strings, the story failed to truly grab me.

Me: I did like how the story focused on how Lopez and Ayers helped each other in their own unique ways.   For example, Lopez uses his contacts to help Ayers by presenting him with a better instrument from one of his sympathetic readers, getting him a nice apartment, and having him meet with a cellist from the LA Philharmonic.     In return, Ayers indirectly helps a cynical Lopez reconnect with his humanity.

The Honeybee: Ayers also gives Lopez plenty of material for his floundering newspaper column, which eventually results in awards and a book deal.

Me: Ouch!   Talk about being cynical!

The Honeybee: It’s true and the movie didn’t shy away from that point either!

Me: Well, I thought Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx did a great job in their respective roles.   I also thought Foxx was especially convincing as a Julliard-trained musician.

The Honeybee: If you ask me Robert Downey was sharp as the reporter, but Jamie Foxx fell a little flat.

Me: Oh, that’s good, Honeybee.   Sadly, The Soloist hit a few sour notes as well, the biggest being that the movie was rife with the usual Hollywood shame-on-America symbolism.   For example, when he wasn’t donning his typically eclectic homeless attire, Foxx was shown wearing a filthy, but elaborate, Uncle Sam get-up that strained credulity.

The Honeybee: Did you notice the director also showed him sleeping on a ratty American flag pillow on the streets of skid row?

Me: Yes, that too, and there were others that I won’t get into.   Clearly, Joe Wright, who directed this movie and is from Great Britain, wanted to tell us that America is failing its homeless population.   In the end, though, The Soloist failed to strike a chord with me and so I am going to have to say this movie is only worth a “Rent” recommendation.

The Honeybee: Although I was expecting a lot more from The Soloist, after watching it I really was indifferent too.   I mean, it was an okay story, with pretty okay acting by Robert Downey Jr and a supporting cast of okay actors.   I say “Rent” too.

Me: Two “rent” recommendations – I think that’s the perfect coda for a movie that’s just “okay.”   ;-)

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