The Soloist Movie Poster Image

The Soloist



Memorable, sometimes gritty drama about music, friendship.
Popular with kids
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2009
  • Running Time: 109 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

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.


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.


Some moments of tenderness -- and tension, too -- between a former couple, but no kissing or any other physical activity.


Swearing includes "s--t," "damn," "hell," "goddamn," "son of a bitch," and very limited use of "f--k."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A man (not a main character) smokes a crack pipe in public. Some discussions about addiction. Characters are shown drinking.

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.

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.

Families can talk 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?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:April 24, 2009
DVD/Streaming release date:August 4, 2009
Cast:Catherine Keener, Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr.
Director:Joe Wright
Run time:109 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:thematic elements, some drug use and language

This review of The Soloist was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

  • A music teacher inspires his students.
  • Pleasant, emotional, fable-like family drama.
  • Ray
    Excellent portrayal of extraordinary musician.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Teen, 13 years old Written byEricCarrRulez March 19, 2011
good movie.
What other families should know
Great messages
Teen, 14 years old Written byOldBob13 April 7, 2010

A good cast and an A-rate script make up for this urban drama's flaws

The Soloist is based on the inspiring story of violin prodigy Nathaniel Ayers, who, in 2005, was living on the streets and then taken in by a successful newspaper columnist. The movie does good following the story, but what really stands out is the script. It's smart and true, and the performances are deeply moving. The movie also has a playful sense of humor, and a great way of forming climatic scenes. This is a drama, but it will appeal to many fans of differnt genres anyway. As far as content goes, there is a lot of language for a PG-13 (two f-words, a dozen s-words and a handful of other profanities), and some drinking. But nothing too bad. 11 year-olds should be fine.
What other families should know
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 14 years old Written bysoccerchic June 19, 2011

inspiration no worry's just the good stuff

i am 13 yrs old and wouldn't advise showing this movie to a 9yr old that wasn't mature for his/her age...they would possibly still think it was boring...there was nothing sexual at all...some cussing not bad though possibly d**n a couple of times...the thing that freaked me out a little was the voices he heard in his head because he was a skitsofrynic(sorry if i misspelled it but he had a phsycological disorder) it was so this movie Robert Downey Jr. was a very good role model and had a very good lesson for us all...he helped a man who he believed could be so much more and this guy was a hobo that most people in today's world would think wow he is crazy do not get involved with him he might kill you or avoid him at all costs he's weird but he accepted him and tried to help him through the hardships he had gone through and the hardships he continued to go through with his phsycological disorder! it was truly inspiring
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much swearing


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?