Of all the things wrong with the independent drama California Solo the film’s awkward title doesn’t stand out as one of the major issues. It’s nothing if not wholly appropriate. It’s almost an entirely one man show based around a commanding performance by Robert Carlyle and it’s so heavily ensconced in the lives of people living in the Hollywood Hills that’s it’s too far up its own ass to come up with relatable or even remotely likable characters.
Self-proclaimed “moderately lazy Scotsman” and one time guitarist in an influential 70s Brit-pop act, Lachlan MacAldonich (Carlye) has been living in the states long past the expiry date on his visa and has been working incognito on an organic farm somewhere just outside of Los Angeles. He spends his nights podcasting about dead rock stars and drinking himself into an early grave until he gets pinched for a DUI and he’s threatened with deportation thanks to a drug charge on his record from back in the day. Lachlan does what he can to fight off going home to face the death of his brother and former bandmate, while trying to get his life in order for the somewhat selfish means of finding a way to stay.
Carlyle portrays Lachlan as a man of contradictions and confusion. He seemingly wants to be a good man, but he’s been an unrepentant shit for far too long to realize that the damage he’s done is almost irreparable. The character beats and nuances of a character like Lachlan could have easily fallen into quirk or hamfisted nostalgia for a bygone era, but Carlyle finds a way to make the character (who is in nearly every shot of the film) watchable even when the film around it isn’t doing anything at all.
The greatest problem aside from being a smug character piece that any actor could be forgiven for sinking his teeth into is that writer/director Marshall Lewy’s film isn’t compelling in the slightest and it can never come up with a way to hook the viewer’s full attention outside of forcing them to watch Carlyle’s naturalistic performances. It’s never clear if we’re supposed to feel sorry for Lachlan or if we’re meant to hate him. I would hope that it’s the latter because the character seems to have done little right in life outside of being charming and affable. When a plot point involving a daughter he fathered many years prior in California arises the movie and any potential sympathy for Lachlan’s situation falls apart completely. He has a relatable situation, but there’s no reason that he should ever be redeemed and despite having a former rock star at the centre of it, California Solo is so shrug worthy that it can’t be bothered to mount a comeback narrative.
It’s not even particularly interesting or smart in how the film decides to show Lachlan as a selfish opportunist, and even his drinking problem is handled in a way that makes it feel like a plot point rather than a character trait. Credit for anything working in the film belongs solely to Carlyle, although Lewy has crafted every pedestrian looking shot to seem as gorgeous as possible. It’s a film that takes about thirty minutes to set up its premise about an unlikeable guy, wastes a decent supporting cast (including Danny Masterson as a manipulative hipster DJ, Catherine Wilhoite as Lachlan’s ex-wife, and a genuinely good Alexia Rasmussen as a potential new love interest by giving them nothing to do), and then spins its wheels for the remaining hour or so without ever once making it dramatically engaging or worth thinking about.