STUDIO: Dreamworks Video
MSRP: $29.98
RUNNING TIME: 117 Minutes

  • Commentary by director Joe Wright
  • An Unlikely Friendship: making The Soloist
  • Kindness, Courtesy, and Respect: Mr. Ayers + Mr. Lopez
  • One size does not fit all: Addressing Homelessness In Los Angeles
  • Beth’s Story
  • Deleted scenes

The Pitch:

A homeless black man dresses like a drag queen, plays Beethoven, and manages to not poop in his street-cello.

The Humans:

•  Jamie Foxx as Nathaniel Anthony Ayers
•  Robert Downey Jr. as Steve Lopez
•  Catherine Keener as Mary Weston
•  Tom Hollander as Graham Claydon
•  Lisa Gay Hamilton as Jennifer Ayers-Moore
•  Rachael Harris as Leslie
•  Stephen Root as Curt Reynolds
•  Nelsan Ellis as David Carter
•  Jena Malone as Lab Technician

Playing a sensual ditty on the cello… 6% better than digging a latrine.

The Nutshell:

A down and out L.A. Times reporter meets, helps, and is inspired by a schizophrenic street musician.

The sybian arrives in rogue packaging. Intriguing. Avant-garde.

The Lowdown:

Robert Downey Jr. plays a troubled, middle-aged reporter for the L.A. Times. We meet him mid-career and post-divorce. He’s just moved. Just had a major bicycle accident. He’s been humbled. And then he meets the most humbled of all in a park: it’s Jamie Foxx as a homeless, schizophrenic man making music on a two-string violin. What follows is a nuanced relationship between he and Steve Lopez, a character adapted from the real-life L.A. Times reporter of the same name. He soon realizes that he has the story of his career and courts the mentally ill violinist, delivering a cello to him on the street, finding a place for him to play his instrument and procuring a safe place for him to live. Along the way, he meets other homeless individuals that seem to exercise his heart in the art of patience and empathy. This premise has all the ingredients for a poignant and sometimes humorous film.

“I have a feeling you’re not qualified to navigate a steam ship. Here is an instrument of classical music.”

We follow Steve Lopez as he digs up the past of Nathaniel Anthony Ayers. It is never easy, as his subject suffers from schizophrenia. The cityscape of Los Angeles becomes a character in and of itself as Lopez hits the streets to chase the real story behind the street musician. We find ourselves in tunnels and alcoves among boxes and cigarette butts, alongside the bottom feeders of the earth. And we find ourselves as Lopez must have, astounded that something so good can come out of such a forgotten landscape and that above the thrum of traffic, we hear Beethoven. We find out that the man had been cello virtuoso of some regard, having attended Juilliard School, one of the most prestigious music conservatories in the country.

“Mary had a…. M–Mary… Maaaary had a lit-…Mary had a–GODDAMN! I gonna go piss in the street!”

Through flashbacks, we see a young Nathaniel Anthony Ayers fall in love
with the cello, while chased by the beginnings of mental disease. Steve
Lopez’s attempts to help Ayers bring him to the homeless district in
Los Angeles and ultimately to a mission called L.A.M.P., which is
purgatory for the mentally ill, the lame, deaf, blind, and addicted. We
spend most of the second half of the film lost in L.A.M.P., which is
where the film seems to lose itself the rest of the way. Addicts,
prostitutes, and otherwise ill people surround Lopez, and occasionally,
the imagery is poetic. Voice-overs of Lopez’s writing create an
interesting narrative, conrasting his poetic version of the story with
the squalor we see. But we’re not sure if we are to hate the homeless
or love them in spite. The film isn’t sure either.

“Thank you for sharing this slab, sleeping street negro!”

You see, it is never clear, what with Ayers dressing in sequins and loud capes and masks whether we are to accept his eccentric choices, laughing with him, or whether we are to ridicule him. His creative and eccentric character seems to border on drag-queen, losing its authenticity and inhibiting empathy. The costume usurps the character. Is he the object of empathy or the butt of the joke? The movie vacillates between both pitches and it hurts the rest of the work. Robert Downey Jr.’s emotionally poignant responses to Foxx’s plight are honest and nuanced; you begin to realize by the end of the film that the way he “plays” Lopez is one of the only honest things about the film.

“Friendship = traffic + melodies + a plastic milk crate up your ass.”

This wasn’t a film about music, nor should it have been. The use of music is beautiful at times.Watch the crane shot where they move from Ayers’ underground solo continuously to above the street capturing the majesty of the entire picture. We see and hear a local solo performance become epic. However, they really make a mistake when they try to visually interpret music. In a scene where Lopez and Ayers sit alone in the audience at a closed rehearsal for the symphony we are offered the simple, emoting faces of the two characters–a motif used well throughout the film.  And then what do they do to us? We are plagued by minute after minute of abstract lights while we are blown away by the music. I found this humiliating. Music is already an abstraction.and it’s highly personal. I didn’t need to be offered Ayer’s internal vision of it. What they did to us was too obvious and too literal.

You find out too late what the film is about. Once the film takes you to L.A.M.P., you get dragged through the middle of the street and get pretense wiped all over you. It gets too didactic.

“I’ll wait while you street-practice. The third movement of this piece sounds like bowels.”

The Package:

Besides the commentary by the uber-pretentious director, the extras are enjoyable. It satisfies your curiosity about the homeless man behind the story by letting you meet him as well as the real-life Steve Lopez. It includes an animated commercial addressing homelessness called “Beth’s Story.” When you get to “One Size Does Not Fit All: Addressing Homelessness in Los Angeles,” you realize that the film might have been better as a documentary. It’s the story the director must have been trying to tell all along, as evidenced by the bulk of the story moving away from the relationship between Ayers and Lopez and moving full speed into the homeless mission of L.A.M.P. itself. It’s worth the watch if you’re even a casual student of sociology or interested in human relationships.

5.5 out of 10