Paramount Pictures. DVD available Fall 2009
In 2005 LA Times columnist Steve Lopez befriended a homeless schizophrenic cellist named Nathaniel Ayers. Lopez often wrote about Ayers for the Times, introducing many readers to the reality of schizophrenia and the desperate plight of the Los Angeles slum known as Skid Row. The Soloist, based on Lopez’s book of the same name, translates Lopez’s powerful depiction of mental illness and urban desolation into a moving film.
Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.) first meets Ayers (Jamie Foxx) in a park where the musician plays Beethoven on a two-stringed violin. Foxx portrays a breathless and rambling schizophrenic. He pounces on the natural pauses in speech, filling them with seemingly random words and riffing on tangents. Adding to Foxx’s compelling performance, the film’s soundtrack offers the audience a frightening taste of what schizophrenia might feel like. Viewers are tormented by the voices Ayers hears. The most disturbing is that of a woman who speaks in neutral tones about worthlessness and violence.
Foxx’s performance rates well with an expert on schizophrenia, Tyrone Cannon, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who happens to have met Lopez. “I thought his portrayal of thought disorder was convincing,” Cannon says. “His difficulty relating socially was well done.”
One of the film’s recurring themes is friendship as a treatment for schizophrenia, and the sentiment is not off base, Cannon confirms. “Even as a neuroscientist,” he says, “I wouldn’t minimize the importance of friendship.”
Note: This article was originally printed with the title, "Reviews and Recommendations."