With some trepidation I finally saw “The Soloist” movie last week. Knowing that it was based on a true story and book I really liked and would be a visual representation of complicated issues and problems that are easy to stereotype and over-simplify, I was prepared to not like this movie. My verdict? I give it a solid “good.” Sure, I was disappointed with the inevitable Hollywood-ization, changes and conflation of important parts of the story, but in the end my verdict is based on what happened after the movie. I asked others what they thought of the movie, and the reaction in my informal polling was overwhelmingly positive.
There were several people who like me had read the book and were disappointed but several also felt like the movie at least hit the high points and messages of the book. To be honest, however, I am most interested in what people who knew little about the true story or even homelessness and mental illness thought of the movie. The words I heard were simple descriptions like “touching,” “profound,” and “eye-opening.” So, while the movie could not live up to the high standard of the book for me, I am hopeful it can be an important vehicle for educating people about the scourges of homelessness and mental illness and what it takes to overcome them. Also, there are things that a movie can do better than the written word, such as in this case providing a visual glimpse into a schizophrenic mind. The movie is well done and the performances are solid.
Mental illness, extreme poverty and homelessness are not issues we like to talk about, but hopefully this movie can get people talking. Therefore, here is some advice for people not sure if they should see “The Soloist:”
- If you don’t have time to read the book and know little about homelessness and mental illness but want to learn about the challenges facing people who suffer from them, you should see the movie and think about how many lives of promise exist on our streets.
- If you are thinking about reading the book, do it (it’s a quick read) and then take someone who probably wouldn’t read the book to see the movie and talk with them about it.
- If you have read the book and are worried that seeing the movie will be a disappointment, go ahead and see the movie with realistic expectations. Take someone who may be unfamiliar with the story and talk afterward about what the story tells us about how to help people suffering from mental illness and homelessness.
Have you seen the movie? What did you think?
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There is a touching review of “The Soloist” movie on the USA Today site by Pete Earley, author of “Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness.” See it at http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2009/05/the-soloist-enlightens.html