Hollywood loves to stereotype people with mental illnesses as being merely quirky, or easy to cure if you just give 'em a lot of the right kind of love. The Soloist aims for a more realistic portrayal, and even tries to build awareness about the problems of homeless people in America. Unfortunately, the overall film isn't compelling, and the plot falls into the easy traps of traditional melodrama.
Steve Lopez's nonfiction book was adapted by Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich, Catch and Release). Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) is always on the hunt for more material to fill his LA Times column space, even cannibalizing his own cycling accident to tell a good story. When he encounters Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) playing violin by a statue of Beethoven, and learns that this homeless man once attended Juilliard, he figures he's hit the columnist jackpot. Little by little he starts to try to "fix" Nathaniel -- finding him a cello and a safe place to play, taking him to symphony rehearsals -- but it's not all that easy. And naturally, Steve's life starts to change too, and he's not sure how to handle it.