The Soloist

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
The Soloist Movie Poster Image
Memorable, sometimes gritty drama about music, friendship.
  • PG-13
  • 2009
  • 109 minutes
Popular with kids

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 12 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

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 & Representations

The main characters are certainly flawed, but they value each other and their friendship. Steve goes out of his way to help Nathaniel.

Violence

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.

Sex

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

Language

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

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byjhartsock81 April 12, 2011
Unlikely friendship.
Adult Written by4Spice October 24, 2009

allright 12 and up

it all right truth is kids might see it kind of boring 12 and up
Teen, 13 years old Written byEricCarrRulez March 19, 2011
good movie.
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 newspap... Continue reading

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?

Movie details

For kids who love dramas

Our editors recommend

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

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

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate