Holding himself responsible for his band-mate brother’s untimely death, Lachlan MacAldonich (Robert Carlyle) hasn’t been back to Britain since for fear of finally facing his friends and family. Lachlan’s life in California – split between his work as a farmhand and a podcast he runs commemorating fallen stars – is put on the line, however, when a DUI conviction puts him on the wrong side of the country’s immigration laws.
Forced to re-evaluate his life there, he embarks on a friendship with a loyal customer (Alexia Rasmussen), seeks assistance from one of his old band’s managers and contacts his ex-wife (Kathleen Wilhoite) in an attempt to reconnect with his daughter (Savannah Lathem). The question is: are his efforts sincere, or is he just looking for a way to overturn the charge?
As a story of a washed up rocker struggling with long-fermenting demons and an endlessly destructive personality, California Solo (named after Lachlan’s only solo album) is a welcomingly genteel affair that forgoes the harshest clichés and relegates the most drastic developments to backstory. It’s a pleasant surprise, and one that frees director Marshall Lewy up to pursue a warmer and altogether more affecting tale of strife and sorrow. This more hospitable tone is best exemplified in the film’s setting, which trades the grotty clubs and fetid sewers for a decidely more picturesque landscape of rolling hills and L.A. sun. As Lachlan points out to a houseguest at one point in the movie, he’s not got much, but it’s far still from the destitution the genre usually dictates.
Carlyle is simply superb as the big-time guitarist-turned-farmhand, his performance earning sympathy without ever making an obvious play for it. It is unavoidably a part that fits the actor like a glove (it was written with him in mind, after all), but he nevertheless wears it with charisma and conviction, playing Lachlan as both a victim of extraneous circumstances and as an agent in his own supposed downfall. The supporting cast are similarly compelling, both Alexia Rasmussen and A Martinez excelling in the guises of curious customer and dubious boss respectively. Wilhoite and Lathem also convince, although in smaller roles, as Lachlan’s estranged family, although their limited screentime detracts somewhat from the overall resonance of their relationship.
Unfortunately, there’s not much more to say on the topic of Lewy’s latest. It’s not that California Solo is a bad film, quite the contrary: it’s perfectly adequate, it’s just an unambitious one. It’s difficult to shake the suspicion that while Carlyle is indeed great in the role of Lachlan MacAldonich, it’s a part he could have easily sleepwalked should the mood have taken him. Agreeable – if forgettable – California Solo is a competently directed, competently acted slice of drama; it’s just not a particularly remarkable one.