Tuesday, May 12, 2009


“The SOLOIST” (Robert Downey, Jr. & Jamie Foxx)

A film that is both beautiful & ugly, uplifting & depressing, “The Soloist” is a well-crafted (A hate that phrase, but here, it applies) story of two men from entirely different walks of life, meeting by chance and becoming close friends – Albeit ‘unique’ friends, in that one becomes a reluctant ‘God’ to the other.
The pulse here is that friendship – Some might argue that the pulse, or heart of this film is ‘music’, but I would completely disagree. The music for me became a bit of an annoyance in that it was all ‘classical’; I don’t mind it in small increments, in fact I would say I enjoy it in minimal doses, but it dominates the soundtrack – with the exception of 2 Neil Diamond tunes, which I found odd since the film is based in L.A. & Neil was strictly a New Yorker. Neil’s inclusion does make sense with a whimsical scene in which Foxx’s character puts Neil’s picture up thinking it’s a photo of his new friend.
Robert Downey, Jr. plays Steve Lopez... Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but what did you think when you heard that Robert Downey, Jr. was playing an Australian who becomes a black man? In other words, it doesn’t hurt the story that Downey doesn’t look Latino. Steve is a reporter for the L.A. Times. He suffers a bad fall off his bike in the opening sequence & spends an un-enjoyable evening in the Emergency Room.
Always on the look out for potential stories, Steve hears the plaintive sound of a 2-stringed violin being played... ‘Plaintive’ – I haven’t heard that word since the O.J. trial...
Steve follows the sound & meets an oddly attired homeless man named Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, Jr. who spells his name out for Mr. Lopez, including both the full version of J-u-n-i-o-r and the shorter ‘J – R – period.’
Nathaniel at first appears to be speaking incoherently, his sentences run together endlessly without a moments pause even for a breath. By listening intently, Steve comes to realize that Nathaniel’s ramblings aren’t jibberish at all, he just runs every word together without inserting vocal commas, pauses or periods.
To Steve, Nathaniel is a future column – especially when he checks out the homeless man’s claim that he attended the prestigious Julliard School of Music at one time.
After Steve’s first article on Nathaniel is printed, an aging musician with arthritis donates her cello to Nathaniel so he can have a real instrument to play. This brings about the problem of owning something of value while living on the streets, so Steve helps Nathaniel find shelter. And so the story goes with each column Steve writes, someone else steps forward to offer a helping hand, including a religious music teacher with an ulterior motive.
Although Steve is aware of the fact that the best conclusion to this series is to have Nathaniel return to a ‘normal’ life, the fact is Nathaniel is not mentally equipped to return to normalcy & thus the friendship is tested – Somewhere along the way, the ‘story’ takes a back seat to Steve wanting to help this man get his life back as a promising musician.
Catherine Keener played Steve’s ex-wife & boss who becomes upset with him for making the statement, “I’ve never loved anything as much as he (Nathaniel) loves music!” Keener does an outstanding job of showing how that line hurts her, even though it is spoken by the man she divorced. She then makes a ‘scene’ at an awards ceremony that reveals how she still has special feelings for her ex & that his profound friendship & acclaim are digging away at her as she wonders why he never put forth that much effort to keep their marriage intact.
Acting wise, Downey continues to excel at his craft – I think he’s fantastic, no reason to keep piling on the accolades – the man can virtually do nothing wrong these days. But I need to speak against those that are calling Foxx’s performance weak – Is it because he said something mean to a spoiled teenaged celebrity on his radio show? (Which he also apologized for saying the next day, folks – How many ‘shock jocks’ apologize for ANYTHING they’ve said until their jobs are threatened?)
Yes, Nathaniel, for the most part is a one-note character that doesn’t have a metamorphic change, ala Steve, but it obviously wasn’t easy nailing those ‘rambling’ yet coherent lines. Don’t give the man crap for what he said outside of the realm of acting – I’m the first one to say he didn’t deserve to win an Oscar for ‘Ray’ – Judge him on the merits of his performance – just think of how difficult it must be to act toe-to-toe with Robert Downey, Jr. and not come out looking like the lesser talent? All things considered, I thought Jamie gave one of his better showings & he deserves a pat on the back for this portrayal. Just like all the hoopla over the Miss America bimbo that spoke her mind about gay marriage – Do you people not realize that living in the United States of America means every person has the RIGHT to say what they believe? I don’t agree with what she said either, but she sure has the right to feel that way. I hope she becomes enlightened & changes her mind, but it’s none of my business if she doesn’t... Sorry, had to get that rant off my chest.
As long as I’m in a bitchy mood, my one complaint about this film was the inclusion of a scene that takes an unwarranted pot shot at atheists. Other than that, I found ‘The Soloist’ to be a very touching film. Just for the record, it comes in as my 4th favorite so far in ’09 - #1 SUNSHINE CLEANING


dbm said...

I wrote Terry in the past when I initially saw the movie a few weeks ago, on a little bit about how I felt about it.
I liked it in a fabricational sense. But I would have made an entirely different movie or would have stuck to the Lopez original newspaper writings. It's fiction mixed with non fiction. The biggest pet peeve I have with Hollystrange.
Liberties and more liberties. When can we finally get a movie based on a true story that is verbatim and non fiction that's thrown in ? But that isn't my only problem with the film. I wondered why this was two plus years in the release process. They weren't confidant in their final product. Two stars like Robert and Jamie shouldn't languish in a supposed acclaimed movie to get a April release.
See, I knew about this story beforehand. I have been following the LA Times for a long time, not just Seattle, NY Times as well. I'm sure many people followed this story.
If you knew nothing about the real story I could see where you didn't have a problem with the movie. I have a few things I didn't like even that didn't have to do with deviation from the truth anyway. First, I think Brit director Kevin McDonald was out of his element with the LA setting. I think an American, especially a LA familiar director would have given you something different. Would have given you a better feel of LA. ( Friedkin/Mann/Towne ) I also think Fox wasn't weak per se, but also think didn't quite know what to do with or truly understand schizophrenia. So he did the portrayal the easy way, do it over the top ( full schizo- should have talked to Downey about going full schizo )
The part of the ex- wife is silly because Lopez is happily married with children. Why change the real story ? To show that melodramtic scene was way too obvious, I have maybe had one too many drinks, where I'm going to yell out to Steve and everyone that he is exploiting Nathianial just to revive Steve's career status, I thought was kind of cheap and unoriginal. It never happened in real life and we have seen those outbursts many times in movies. It's like the angry police cheif in cop movies. And when the scene is set up, I knew it was coming.
The other thing they decided to keep in the film that is entirely unbelievable and I almost felt was insulting, was this proposterous thing of the so called people that seem to care about Nathanial, is that they WORRY if they put Nathanial on medication it will effect his musical abilities ? Wha...??? Come on now. That would never be thought of medically. Are you kidding me ?! I'm not that naive. Make it believable.
Laughable ? Not so laughable, because schizophrenia is not funny, but believable, no chance. Nathanial is a full blown schizophrenic. Just getting him on the right meds and off the streets so he isn't so in such a hallucinigenic state and to possibly halfway function somewhat normally is the right diagnosis, not his musical ability. The last thing on their ( doctors, friends ) mind's would be, so lets get him cleaned up and see if we can get him back with a philharmonic again. Not in a chance.
I at least want some of my movie going drama's ( that aren't horror or sci-fi )to be believable at least and that part of the storyline had me shaking my head.
And I think there were parts where the story suffers and where the actors did not quite know what to do with what was presented to them. When you see Downey looking frustrated, I felt like that was real actual frustration, like he knew where things were going ( Foxx not knowing what to do with the part- production delays )
At this point, Downey could probably read the phone book and be impressive.
I think the reason the film wasn't recieved well crtically or domestically, is there are probably people that knew the real story and people that are personally effected by someone with schizophrenia and it just quite doesn't come across as real.
And even though I think Jamie was a punk for that stunt, saying Miley should go smoke crack and be a ho, that doesn't get in the way of how I feel about him as an actor or a role he will do. I just didn't think he knew where to take the role. I would have ( as seen with many schizophrenics ) have taken the character to be inward, with less outbursts.
I personally thought the film woefully underwhelmed. And this was my 2nd most anticipated movie of 08, Er... I mean 09.

movieluva said...

Wow...dbm was let down. This too was a movie I knew of and looked forward to as far back as last summer. And I am of the belief that if you are a studio and you were originally set to release a movie and then pulled it for a spring release, then something wasn't suffice somewhere. If they were confidant in the film, with one Oscar winner and two other nominees leading the way, they would have had no problem releasing it in November, during awards season, as planned.

I see what the his beef he has. I did not know about Steve Lopez or much about Nathanial Ayers. So I cannot comment about authenticity to the true prose, I just didn't think it was all that great of a movie. Especially with all involved. I did n not believe Foxx as a person with this super tragic mental disabilty. Was it forced ? Tried too hard and missed it.? I didn't believe him. He was acting, and when you do mental or physicallyy disabled, it has to come across genuinely and I felt Foxx too much acting. Something just didn't feel all the way right about it to me.

As always, Robert Downey was good. he is really back. There shouldn't be any question about that. But I would recommend it. Even though it's numbers are down and more people didn't like it than did. Surely a film to see for ones self.

movie luva said...

Excuse my grammer or lack there of. I have worked a 13 hour day and have been up since 5 am trying to win over a client. I'm truly seeing double and in one minute I will be in Z land.

Keep up the reviews Terry ! What will you be seeing next ? Angels and Demons ? I'll see it probably but am not a big fan of the franchise.

blue stater said...

Is it just me, or was Jamie Foxx miscast ? I kept thinking of what Don Cheadle would have done with it. I don't think Foxx is trying his best anymore since his win for Ray. Other than being decent in The Kingdom, I really think he's been coasting and not showing much range. I also believe that he couldn't get a handle on the Nathanial character. So he just chose to spazz him out and that's not how all schizophrenic's act.

I was homeless for a time, and there was this one dude who clearly was schizophrenic, but this dude would just stare and then have conversations with himself, but never would he have an outburst. Never. Not saying there aren't some that do have outburst's, just saying all aren't like that. That's just the easiest way to portray a person with a mental illness. Not much a stretch.

Downey Jr. is good in the role but how shocking is that ? He's in his peak now. But that could star could fall too if he decides to do film after film after film( ala Nic Cage, Sam Jackson ) if Downey steps back from time to time and let's his star breath, I think he'll be consistantly one of the top actors out there. Please Robert, don't take every script that comes down the pike where people become sick of you.

Foxx on the other hand thinks he's a gangsta and acts the part in public now. And did you see him try to make the Grammy's be all about him ? Very pig, big headed now. Nothing more than wallpaper in Dreamgirls. Just coasts in Miami Vice and just shows up in Stealth.

Not much of a fan. He doesn't impress me. I actually think he's a better piano player and singer than a all out thespian. That's just me.

As for the movie ? I thought it was decent. Not anything to write home about. Loses points for not being an authentic adaptation too.

Terry R said...

Here's one where I come off looking like the naive critic, I guess. Never have known anyone with schizophrenia (I've known one Quadrophrenic, but that was from a Who album) so obviously the less one knows about this story & the desease, the more they'll overlook its flaws. One thing everyone agrees on these days is that RD,Jr. is at his peak - If he keeps delivering like he did in 'Iron Man' 'Tropic Thunder' & 'The Soloist', I don't care how many films he makes - though being 'picky' with the material he chooses is not a bad call.
I didn't think much of 'The Da Vinci Code', but if nothing else is out, we may give 'Angels & Demons' a shot, just because I don't think Hanks would have stayed with the franchise if they didn't come up with something 'better' than the first.

Rebecca said...

I need the last 3 or 4 lines of the movie -- Lopez and Ayres sitting at the symphony, Lopez's voice-over. Can anyone help?

dbm said...

Last quote in the movie...

" There are people who tell me I've helped. Mental health experts, who say a simple act of being someone's friend can change his brain chemistry, improve his functioning in the world. I can't speak for Mr. Ayers' in that regard, maybe our friendship has helped him, but maybe not. I can, however, speak for myself. I can tell you by witnessing Mr. Ayers' courage, his humility, his faith in the power of his art, I've learned the dignity of being loyal to something you believe in, and holding onto it above all else, I believe in, without question, that it will carry you home "

Steve Lopez

Terry R said...

I knew he'd know, thanks dbm.

Rebecca said...

Fabulous -- thanks so much!