After I sobbed my way through “The Soloist” last night, I had one dominating thought -- I wish I had rented a comedy!
The homelessness, the mental illness, the sense of great potential unfulfilled and families torn apart -- it is almost impossible not to be distracted by the pain. Yet this is not theme of the movie.
By now mostly everyone is probably familiar with the story line: LA Times reporter Steve Lopez, trying to stay afloat amidst a struggling newspaper and a challenging personal life, happens upon a homeless man, Nathaniel Ayers, trying to play a broken violin in the shadow of a statue of Beethoven. Discovering the Ayers was a former student at Juilliard, Lopez scents a story.
Ayers teaches Lopez what friendship really means.
But it is only later – much later – that he creates a friendship. Or perhaps, to put it more accurately, Ayers and the inhabitants of his world (a frightening subculture of the frequently psychotic homeless) teach him what friendship really means.
The message is actually similar to that of the obviously fictional and fantastically successful musical “Wicked.” Elphaba, the so-called “wicked witch,” really tries to help other people -- and animals. She assumes that she knows what’s best for them and works her magic accordingly. In the end, all those she tried to help despise her. In her efforts at rescue, she has actually limited and trapped them. She has prevented them from making their own choices, from achieving their own potential.
Perhaps we would have relegated this idea to the category of song were it not for Steve Lopez’s experiences.
He appears to make the same mistakes as Elphaba. Despite what Ayers tells him, despite what those with experience on Skid row tell him, Lopez is determined to fix Ayers -- in the way that he, Lopez, deems best.
He wants to get Ayers an apartment, cello lessons, medication, an opportunity to perform in concert...Most of his efforts backfire and his anger and frustration are palpable. As is that of Ayers.
What makes the movie powerful, what transforms the story, is the choice that Lopez finally makes – to accept Ayers on his own terms, to treat him as a valuable human being without imposing any conditions.
Lopez is able to recognize and appreciate the goodness in Ayers and forges a relationship with him without any ulterior motives. That is friendship. That is powerful. It is no longer noblesse oblige – or the way to revive a stagnant newspaper career. Lopez has learned the essence of true relationships and made a new friend.
Click here to view the trailer.