As I've mentioned before, I only get excited about new movies a couple of times a year, since Hollywood seems to pump out so much crap. But I can't wait to see "The Soloist," partly because Robert Downey, Jr. is in it, and as far as I'm concerned he's achieved "I'd buy a movie ticket to watch him read the phone book" status. But I'm also intrigued by the story of a journalist writing about a homeless schizophrenic person, because when I was a newspaper reporter, I once got a very similar story.
It was the mid-1990s and I was covering Morristown, N.J., for a mid-sized daily newspaper. The beat reporter's job involves a lot of walking around--going from the firehouses to the mayor's office to the police stations to local stores and restaurants, trying to ferret out interesting nuggets of information. On my jaunts through Morristown, I used to see the same woman over and over again. You couldn't help but notice her, as all of her visible skin--her face, neck, arms and hands--was covered in what looked like either dark theatrical makeup or shoe polish. Her close-cropped hair was usually covered in the same substance.
At first it wasn't clear what she was up to, as she appeared to be white. Was this performance art, some misguided attempt to shock and alarm by parading the town in blackface? I started asking questions. People shrugged their shoulders. "That's Marianne," they'd say. "This is just what she does." And then: "She lives in the park, you know." And not only that, but: "Look at her close up and you'll see how pretty she is. She used to be a model."
Marianne was schizophrenic, according to her family. The local cops kept an eye on her; restaurant owners sometimes gave her food. Occasionally she would walk, straight as an arrow, down the yellow lines in the middle of the traffic. Her relatives would bring her warm clothes. But she was suspicious of the homeless shelters. When I attempted to interview her, it didn't go too well. Her answers didn't make a lot of sense. Except for when she said: "Why do you want to write about me? There's nothing special about me."
Over the years I've often wondered whatever happened to her. This movie should be an interesting look at a journalist interacting with a person like Marianne; I hope it does the ailing newspaper business justice.
And on a related note: Why does every journalist ever portrayed in the movies have to look like such a schlub?