Everyone likes movies about a tormented genius of sorts on the brink of insanity. Whether it be the eccentric piano genius in Shine or the schizophrenic mathematician in A Beautiful Mind, it’s a formula that is both sad but at the same time strangely fascinating. Depicting the true story of a friendship between L.A. Times journalist Steve Lopez and a homeless schizophrenic musician Nathaniel Ayers Jr. (Jamie Foxx), The Soloist isn’t your typical uplifting drama, which doesn’t always work in it’s favor, but it has a message and the strength of it’s two leads make it worth the watch.
Everything comes into play when popular journalist Steve Lopez is looking for his latest story. Wandering across the streets of L.A. Steve meets a rambling, yet gifted street musician by the name of Nathaniel Ayers Jr. Politely conversing with the vagabond, even if he may be incoherent half the time, Steve discovers that this man who now spends his time sleeping on the streets and playing in an L.A. tunnel was once a student at the prestigious Juilliard. It’s at this time that Steve not only starts to write about this kind if at times overly eccentric man, but as well tries to help him with often mixed results.
Facing definite highs and lows together, The Soloist’s bittersweet tale of friendship definitely leans towards the “bitter” side of things more often. Perhaps it’s that need that most of us have for “everything to work out” in the end that makes The Soloist seem as if it’s lacking something. Sure there’s some lighter scenes but there didn’t seem to be a proper balance between the moments of joy and sorrow. It seems to be lacking cohesive direction, wandering from time to time. Possibly director Joe Wright’s problem or maybe the script, but it does hamper this film from breaking out of the pack.
As for our two leads, handling both the heavy-handed/heartbreaking scenes and comical moments were no sweat. Robert Downey Jr. who’s had a resurgence in popularity since Iron-Man, shows he’s a seasoned pro. He’s definitely one of those actors who should’ve received an oscar by now and seems to have no trouble regardless of the genre. Oscar winner Jamie Foxx is another great talent who should stop wasting his time with movies like Stealth and Miami Vice and stick to these kind of character driven dramas. He has a significant amount of range as an actor and I’d hate to see him squander his gift in more dopey action movies. Either actor could have received oscar nominations had this of come out last November, as it was planned initially.
Back to that “message” that The Soloist carries with it. I wasn’t aware going into this film, that it would so strongly address L.A’s rampant homeless problem. Using real homeless Californians as extras, The Soloist brings our attention to an issue that most of us try to ignore despite concern. It’s a compelling backdrop to this unconventional buddy picture and gives The Soloist an even deeper layer. The Soloist may not stand out amongst most of it’s dramatic peers but it entertains as it educates with an engrossing story of a tortured genius.