Friday, August 28, 2009

The Soloist: Grade C

The Soloist (2009)
Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey, Jr., Catherine Keener; Director Joe Wright.

In this docudrama of a true story, Foxx is Ayers, a schizophrenic homeless man in contemporary Los Angeles. Downey is an LA Times reporter who does a story on Ayers’ skilled playing of a violin with only two strings. He befriends Ayers. In his research he discovers that Ayers was once a gifted cello player with the LA symphony before he succumbed to schizophrenia. The reporter provides Ayers with a new cello and takes him to a couple of classical concerts.

There is no plot beyond that. The man has schizophrenia, which means he hears voices, has delusional thinking and incoherent speech. The reporter is unable to get psychiatric medicine for Ayers, not that he would want it or take it. The movie is really a dramatization of the awful plight of the homeless in all big cities. Most are victims of drug abuse and/or mental illness and all are in financial ruin. They are abandoned by their families and friends, by the medical system and by all of society (except for a few dedicated but overwhelmed social service organizations). This movie demonstrates all that, and gives a fairly accurate portrayal of schizophrenia. I was pleased that Foxx’s character did not suddenly become “cured” in Hollywood melodramatic style, upon playing the cello again, or upon meeting his mother again, because schizophrenia is an incurable brain disorder. It can go into remission, and it can be managed, but there is no happy ending.

As a docudrama this film performs an educational service. Acting by Foxx and Downey is superior and well-worth seeing. But as a movie, it is a not very interesting or entertaining, and as a documentary, it is superficial. It takes two hours to give a 15 minute story on homelessness. Neither Ayers' nor the reporter's life is examined in meaningful detail. Schizophrenia and its treatment are not explored. Not even the tragedy of becoming afflicted is well dramatized. The camera swoops around dizzily as on a TV show, for no apparent purpose, although there are a few individual shots that prove a good photographic eye is behind the lens once in a while. The dialog is pedestrian. The characters do not develop over time. We never do understand the reporter’s motivation for getting involved. Catherine Keener is wasted in an incomprehensible character. The overall pace is far too slow. And, as mentioned, there is no plot. There are some interesting DVD extras on homelessness in LA, including interviews with the real life Ayers and the reporter, but these do not redeem the movie.

1 comment:

  1. Good review, the movie pretty much sucked because I was actually watching paint dry during the movie & it was by far more entertaining. However, it wasn't his mother that he met again, it was his sister. The movie also never mentions his accolades as an LA performer, it just glazes over the fact that Mr. Ayers went to Juilliard.