(First published at The Point)
To fix or befriend? That is the question that plagues journalist Steve Lopez (played by Robert Downey, Jr., in the poignant true-story film The Soloist, which premiered Friday).
When Lopez, a popular columnist for the L.A. Times, stumbles across Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a schizophrenic homeless musician, a story is born. Soon, Lopez finds himself caught in the tension between crafting a brilliant story about a Juillard student turned homeless man, and looking out for a guy who simply needs someone to care.
But for Lopez, that tension is soon overshadowed by a deeper tension: to help Ayers or simply be his friend?
Like any well-intentioned citizen, Lopez tries to help Ayers find housing, medication, and cello lessons. Those good designs end with Lopez lying flat on the floor under Ayers’s foot. Here, Lopez must make a choice: to give up on Ayers because he is beyond changing, or to love him unconditionally, schizophrenia, homeless shopping cart, and all.
As the curtain closes on Ayers and Lopez sitting next to each other enjoying the glorious strains filling an L.A. concert hall, it becomes clear that helping and befriending aren’t all that distinct. Perhaps, they are even one and the same.
I usually dread paying $10.50 for movie. But this film earned every cent. It’s not an armrest-gripper, but rather, a simple story of friendship that transforms. That’s one plot that never grows outdated. In short, go see it!