I really, really liked The Soloist. Last week, a movie came out called 'State of Play' where (I think?) 'journalists' Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams fight crime and roll of hoods of cars, or something. Um, no. That's not really the life of a journalist.
RDJ's Steve Lopez rang true as a journalist because, well, Steve Lopez is a real journalist. I love how they set up the story: a columnist desperate for something to write about. He's considering given to him by his editor, but is dreading it. He's looking for something better. He finds it when he stumbles upon Jamie Foxx's Nathaniel Anthony Ayers -- a homeless musical prodigy. Somewhere early in this movie, RDJ narrates 'Everyone has a story.'
That was always my motto in journalism! It's so true. Now before I get into this lengthy aside, I'd like to acknowledge for all of you thinking it that yes -- I covered high school sports. No, I was not a news columnist for the LA Times. But that doesn't mean I couldn't relate to how this story played out.
I've been desperate for a story (a morning spent with octogenarian shuffle board players comes to mind.) I've stumbled upon good ones (local basketball player starting for Afghanistan's first national team since the 70s.) And I've had to build trust and relationships with subjects to extract a lot of material.
On that last point ... what this movie reminded me the most of (and I'm sure the connection will seem stretched) is the season I spent writing about a local high school baseball team. I say season, yes. The story was reported on for close to six months, took another month to write. I had to gain the trust of a skeptical coach, who had previously not had too much respect for 23-year-old female sports reporters. Over the course of the months, our relationship got closer, mirrored by my seat at games. First, I sat outside the fence. Then, on the corner of the dugout. Then, on the bench in the dugout. Steve Lopez had to do the same thing with his subject.
I had to build a relationship with the secondary subjects: the players. I had to choose which ones to focus on, and inevitably put them in a role: 'The Nerd,' 'The Phenom' 'The Dirtdog' etc. I had to decide how I would portray them without exploiting them -- after all, they didn't ask me to write about them. They weren't old enough or paid enough to be pressured and criticized on a high level, but still I had to present some conflicts in order for it not to be fluff. I explained this to them. They seemed to understand.
I became really close with them, like friends, just like Steve Lopez and Nathaniel. I couldn't control anything about what they did. I couldn't advise them how to lay down a bunt (their biggest issue) and I couldn't force them to beat a team in the first round of the playoffs they had never beaten before (they did.) At the end of the season, before my story came out, they honored me at their banquet -- all of them signing a ball for me, calling me Coach Em. It was awesome.
I wrote the story as fair as possible. After it came out, I braced for the fact that maybe, some of the kids would take exception. I got a phone call from the father of 'The Bright Talent who Screws it up'... he told me: "When I first read the story I was upset with you. Then I read it again and realized you nailed how my son is."
Look, I know it's not the same. My story will not become a movie, and no one probably remembers it except for me and the subjects. But I saw a little of my story in this movie. (You can read my story here, here and here .... You can read Steve Lopez's columns on Nathaniel here.)
So yeah, I liked the movie. The acting was exceptional. The directing was odd -- there's a seizure inducing light show in the middle that makes little sense. The flashbacks are overdramatic. It's not perfect. But it's a realistic portrayal of a journalist's day-to-day struggles -- no guns involved.
Final rating: Three-and-a-half Werschaibles.