Based on a true story, “The Soloist” is about
Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.), a
columnist, encountering a homeless man with a violin, and
being unexpectedly moved by the technique, and the
passion, of the musician.
But conversations with Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx)
are dicey at best, because Nathaniel is a
stream-of-consciousness kind of talker.
He doesn’t always acknowledge inquiries, and he
doesn’t often make eye contact, and many times the
hearer is uncertain of the context or background of the
flow of words coming from the wild-eyed, wiry,
But when Lopez discovers that Ayers’ claim of
having been a student at Julliard is true, he begins
writing columns abut the impromptu concrete tunnel
concertos, and people respond.
First, a reader donates a cello.
Then, a small apartment.
Then, arrangements to hear the Los Angeles Symphony
Orchestra play Beethoven, for real.
Ayers is transported, and Lopez thinks he might
truly be redeeming a lost soul.
But the “push-back” is that Ayers has a mind of
his own, as well. He
thinks of the donated apartment as a prison, and refuses
to stay there, preferring instead to roam the streets, or
to drift in and out of a day-care/homeless shelter known
as “Lamp” (It’s never quite clear in the movie who
runs this facility, or how it is funded, but presumably
that detail was too much clutter to include in the story.)
Ayers accepts private cello lessons, at first, but
then has a panic attack when asked to give a more formal
concert, preferring, instead, the freedom, the anonymity,
and the low performance pressure of the streets.
And Ayers certainly does not want to be sent to
some “mental health” facility where he will be tested
and medicated. That’s
the only real fight the two men have.
After a while, Lopez begins to “get it”---that
being this man’s friend means helping him without
patronizing him. Yes,
he can do him favors, as friends do, but there needs to be
some reciprocity (here, take this soda I found), and there
needs to be the right to say “No.”
Including the right to refuse something that would
be “good for him.”
and Foxx excel in these roles.
Foxx is both enough musician and actor enough to be
thoroughly convincing as the half-crazed, half-genius
, as the earnest columnist, knows he needs the story, and
enjoys the reader response he’s receiving, but he also
genuinely cares for this person, though he has to learn
how to be a friend without condescending, or manipulating.
The overdubbed line at the end sums up what he
learned about this relationship: “The quiet dignity of
making a commitment and sticking to it.”
“The Soloist” will be thoroughly enjoyed by all
who appreciate classical music, a redemptive story, and
some very fine acting.
When have you tried to help
someone, but later realized you were imposing your values?
It was Don Meredith, quoting
Charles Schulz, who said, “There’s no greater burden
than unlimited potential.”
Agree or disagree?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen,
Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church,