By S. Jhoanna Robledo,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Memorable, sometimes gritty drama about music, friendship.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The movie has an inspiring message about friendship -- two men from very different walks of life become very close friends despite mental illness, professional pressures, and difficulties beyond the realm of daily life. The movie depicts mental illness in a realistic light and goesn't shy away from L.A.'s grittier side.
Positive Role Models
The main characters are certainly flawed, but they value each other and their friendship. Steve goes out of his way to help Nathaniel.
Violence & Scariness
A character suffering from schizoprenia lashes out at a friend, beats him up, and threatens his life. The same character also bullies his sister. Skid Row denizens get in skirmishes; a woman's dead body is found, and there's blood caked on the spot.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some moments of tenderness -- and tension, too -- between a former couple, but no kissing or any other physical activity.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Swearing includes "s--t," "damn," "hell," "goddamn," "son of a bitch," and very limited use of "f--k."
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A man (not a main character) smokes a crack pipe in public. Some discussions about addiction. Characters are shown drinking.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this stirring drama about friendship and the beauty of music depicts mental illness in a realistic light, neither overdramatizing nor underemphasizing it. Scenes that take place in L.A.'s gritty areas include some skirmishes and shots of drug use, and a dead body is found. The authentic feel of those scenes (which feature real-life Skid Row regulars) could be upsetting for sensitive viewers. But aside from that and some harsh language (including sparing use of "f--k"), the movie is age appropriate for teens -- there's no sex or blatant product placement.
To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Where to Watch
Videos and Photos
Based on 6 parent reviews
Report this review
Report this review
What's the Story?
Facing a deadline, Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.) chances upon the story of his life when he hears the flawed-but-mesmerizing strains of a man playing a battered violin in a scruffy city park. The musician is Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), who's homeless, but not a grifter or a busker -- he's a former Julliard student who was felled by mental illness but is somehow made whole by playing classical music. And though Steve first approaches Nathaniel with journalistic objectivity, he gradually gets enmeshed in his subject's life, offering him finer musical instruments and wheedling him into an apartment. Nathaniel becomes a part of Steve's life, too, but it's not an easy fit on either end. Still, somehow they find the perfect pitch for their unusual friendship to play out.
Is It Any Good?
The Soloist manages to avoid the dumbing down that often happens when a true story is made into a movie; a few changes add cinematic contours to the storyline, but the ending isn't pat or contrived. It also steers clear of "message movie" heavy handedness (though only just), even though it has plenty to say about mental illness and L.A.'s shocking homeless problem. The movie is a triumph for British director Joe Wright, who, though prone to visual flourishes that border on ostentation, knows when to allow a scene to be quiet and when to let it scream. There's a moment in which Steve crouches, listening to Nathaniel play a proper cello for the first time in years; another filmmaker might have amped up the tension, but Wright goes for mindfulness, allowing the music to speak for itself. In The Soloist, its impact is loud and oh-so-clear.
We've seen Los Angeles glamorous (Laurel Canyon), gang-infested (Boyz in the Hood), and ambitious (The Player). We've seen it dangerous (The Usual Suspects), mournful (City of Angels), romantic (L.A. Story), historic (L.A. Confidential), rich, complicated and gritty (Crash). But until THE SOLOIST, we've never seen it truly soulful. Finally, L.A. breaks free of Hollywood clichés to emerge fully realized, full of life and contradictions. Having top-rate actors helps: Downey Jr. tamps down the brilliant irascibility that so often permeates his performances. Here, he's muted (in a good way),even when he's frustrated, scared, or enraged. And Foxx is mesmerizing; as he did in Ray, he displays both fine musicianship and a light acting touch that makes for a potent combination.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about what the film is trying to say. Why do you think the filmmaker lingered on the gritty Skid Row scenes? Is it to shock or to educate? Were you aware of the massive homeless problem L.A. faces?
How is this movie different from many other films set in L.A.?
Families can also discuss Steve and Nathaniel's relationship. At what point do they become friends, and why?
The movie is based on a true story -- how accurate do you think it is? Why might filmmakers decide to change some details in making a movie?
- In theaters: April 24, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: August 4, 2009
- Cast: Catherine Keener, Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr.
- Director: Joe Wright
- Inclusion Information: Middle Eastern/North African actors, Black actors
- Studio: DreamWorks
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 109 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, some drug use and language
- Last updated: March 28, 2023
Inclusion information powered by
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
Suggest an Update
Where to Watch
Our Editors Recommend
Movies About Musicians
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate