The Soloist: soulful but not savvy
Its occurred to most of us that every homeless person out there probably has a fascinating story. But looking into it just sounds like a dangerous idea. Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez did it; he flopped right down on the sidewalk amid the crackheads on homeless Main Street, L.A., and though he got some menacing looks, nobody raised a hand at him as he embarked on a mission to bring a homeless musician back into the roofed world. But all he wanted in the beginning was a good story.Though the point of Susannah Grants (Erin Brokovich, 28 Days) and Joe Wrights (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) adaptation of Lopezs tale of friendship with lost prodigy Nathaniel Ayers is a little convoluted, some of the performances mostly delivered by the extras in and around the homeless shelter are Oscar-worthy, and the story is nonetheless fascinating.Lopez (played by Robert Downey Jr.) meanders through L.A.s seedier side in hopes of landing a riveting column idea. Under a statue of Beethoven he discovers Ayers (Jamie Foxx), lost in the lovely strains of his beat-up, two-string violin. During Ayers Rain Man-like, muttering monologue, Lopez learns that the vibrantly dressed hobo at one point attended Julliard (New Yorks prestigious school of musical arts). He makes Ayers the star of his column and stirs the hearts and minds of his readers. As he spends more time with Ayers, however, his new goal becomes finding a better life for the man to get him off the streets and attempt to make him a successful, recognized musician. He is convinced that all it takes is an apartment, a cello instructor and maybe some meds for schizophrenia. The story begins with Lopez crashing on his bicycle and going to the hospital. Its really not clear what the relevance is of this scene other than demonstrating that Lopez is a well-read columnist whose primary subject matter is his own life experiences. He writes about the crash and is inundated with sympathetic letters. The scene also shows that this is the chapter of his column leading up to the Ayers chronicles, and how the two initially establish their rapport because Ayers is embarrassed about his appearance. If this were a full-fledged documentary, the lack of flow would be a little easier to digest. But since its a first-run feature film, a little more continuity might be refreshing. The story is interesting, but the movie is devoid of force. Its a snippet of the life of a middle class journalist more than the life of a homeless musician but at least the contrast of their respective domestic dangers (pesky raccoons digging holes in the backyard for Lopez, the danger of getting clubbed to death in his sleep for Ayers) is eye-opening, if not moving.TWO OUT OF FOUR STARS
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