Joe Wright | 2009 | 109 mins | USA
The Soloist is a mawkish, based on a true story, Oscar-baiting drama that stars Jamie Foxx as Nathaniel Ayres, a Julliard educated musical genius who may be schizophrenic and lives on the streets of LA playing a two-stringed violin. He mumbles endlessly and is kind of endearing in the end, but he's no Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. Robert Downey Jr. is Steve Lopez, the LA Times reporter who "discovers" the homeless virtuoso and decides to write a column about him, ultimately feeling compelled to get more deeply involved in Ayres' life in a well meaning but simplistic attempt to 'help' or 'fix' him. The odd couple's tentative bond becomes a real friendship with alternately sad and hilarious results.
Oh yeah, Catherine Keener also plays Lopez's ex-wife and editor and is mostly there to remind him to take responsibility for the shit he stirs up, which I guess he didn't do during their marriage?
The film is an awkward blend of styles, and it's five parts expository flashback to one part investigative journalism and hard-hitting issue-based drama (the issues are homelessness and mental health, fyi), which is an unfortunate imbalance, and one I hope the book it's based on doesn't suffer from, because the story is actually pretty interesting, it's just delivered in an overwrought, made-for-TV way. Plus, real life doesn't provide a lot of conveniently movie-ready endings, so the finale feels forced.
By far the most odd, surprising and perhaps awesome (I haven't decided yet) thing about the film is the lengthy montage of flashing coloured lights that we're subjected to during a musical recital. It's one of several impressionistic sequences (birds in flight, LA landscapes, etc) that are obviously intended to bring us into the mindset of the disturbed genius. It all feels out of place in the otherwise traditional narrative, but the coloured lights were so bizarre and Stan Brakhage-esque that I chuckled under my breath with glee instead of rolling my eyes.
Bonus fact: Joe Wright was apparently hell-bent on dousing Robert Downey Jr. in urine during this shoot. Look out for recurring pee gags!