The Soloist

by Tom Pyle

The Soloist. Jaimie Foxx, Robert Downey, Jr. Directed by Joe Wright. Universal Pictures. 2009.

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NAMI Mercer (NJ) hosted a benefit screening of The Soloist last night at the Garden Theater in Princeton. Good event. Great cause. Mediocre film.

Based on a true story, The Soloist recounts the friendship between LA Times reporter Steve Lopez and homeless cello virtuoso Nathanial Ayers, who also has schizophrenia. The story is moving, as are many of the scenes. There are even some disturbing scenes, such as the heartbreaking images of what homelessness for an individual with schizophrenia must be like.

Enduring schizophrenia of a loved one in my own family, I was eager to see if the film could help me understand better what transpires in a schizophrenic mind. Alas, I wasn’t able to get over the feeling that Hollywood simply couldn’t play it straight. The film had too many gratuitous and distracting aspects. I knew this for sure when the film portrayed a Los Angeles Philharmonic member, who at first sympathetically tutored Nathaniel, but then was portrayed as an evangelistic Christian whose invitations to Nathaniel to pray set off the mad man into a frenzy. There was also the overmaking of the life of a hapless and searching Lopez. In one hospital scene Lopez is asked for a urine sample, which he spills and then slips on the pee slick and falls down. Such gratuitous vaudeville cheapened the subject matter a little.

If not a fine film, the movie served a fine purpose. Two purposes, in fact. The film itself is generally sympathetic to the plight of mentally ill. In this regard it should help reduce stigma. The film was also an occasion for NAMI Mercer to organize an awareness event.

Nathaniel Ayers and Steve Lopez on Sixty Minutes:

http://theenvelope.latimes.com/news/politics/la-me-lopez-skidrow-nathaniel-series,0,2774908.special

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