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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

April 6, 2009 at 2:32 PM

Chemistry watch: Downey Jr. and Keener in “The Soloist”

Sometimes, watching a movie, you see a bit of casting that just feels absolutely right. In “The Soloist,” Joe Wright’s based-on-a-true-story drama about a journalist who befriends a homeless musician, there’s a perfect example. Steve Lopez, the L.A. Times columnist in the movie, is played by Robert Downey Jr.; his ex-wife, Mary, is played by Catherine Keener. (She’s also, in one of those only-in-Hollywood contrivances, his editor. The real Lopez, according to his book, is happily married to someone who doesn’t work at the Times.)
Robert Downey Jr. and Catherine Keener — now, think about that. Both have the same sardonic way with a line; both have an ability to make even the blandest dialogue funny; both are great-looking yet nonetheless convey a very real-person vibe; both have the gift of being able to seize a scene and bring it to life at their own pace, be it meandering or rapid-fire. To my knowledge, they’ve never been teamed before, but their pairing seems absolutely right and occasionally electric. When I watched “The Soloist” last week, I was sometimes distracted at the way the two of them clicked — and, since they’re playing ex-spouses, wondering what on earth happened to this marriage. Were they too much alike? Was working together too stressful? Was her drinking problem (which we see a bit of in one scene) a contributor? When you spend this much time pondering the marital difficulties of a fictitious couple, you know the acting’s spot-on.
Looks like they’re going to rival Julia Roberts and Clive Owen (in “Duplicity”) for my 2009 Best Movie Chemistry award, at least so far. (Last year’s winners, in my Dubious Achievements round-up: David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in “The X-Files,” Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Noth in “Sex and the City,” and Harrison Ford and Karen Allen in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” in the “long-established” subcategory; Sean Penn and James Franco in “Milk,” Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” George Clooney and Renee Zellweger in “Leatherheads” of the newcomers OK, I couldn’t name just one.) And I’m holding out some hope for Hugh Grant and SJP, who are teaming up for a rom-com this holiday season.
Who do you think has shown some chemistry onscreen lately? And who would you like to see paired up on screen?

Robert Downey Jr. and Catherine Keener in “The Soloist” (photo by Francois Duhamel, copyright DW Studios L.L.C. and Universal Studios)

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