“The Soloist”
 
            Based on a true story, “The Soloist” is about Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.), a Los Angeles 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, dumpster-clothed persona.  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.” 
            Downey and Foxx excel in these roles.  Foxx is both enough musician and actor enough to be thoroughly convincing as the half-crazed, half-genius dignified dissolute.  Downey , 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.
 
Questions for Discussion:
1)      When have you tried to help someone, but later realized you were imposing your values?
2)      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, Greenville , Texas