Movie Review: California Solo

A scene from California Solo.

It’s about time the gifted Robert Carlyle got his own American film. The 52-year-old Scottish actor has brought depth and flavour to films and television for nearly thirty years and only an actor as capable as he could give California farmer Lachlan MacAldonich such complexity trapped in an extreme midlife crisis in Marshall Lewy’s California Solo.

MacAldonich is a Scottish musician who once played in a world famous rock band. His brother led the band but died suddenly. MacAldonich pulled up stakes to live in the U.S. and after fifteen years he is more or less content to work on an organic farm and host a radio podcast on famous dead rockers. People like him and he loves the great Californian lifestyle. And he likes a girl who comes by his booth at the farmer’s market.

One night he drinks too much at the local bar, and is arrested while driving home. Turns out a drug charge against him fifteen years earlier when he was traveling with the band wasn’t cleared off the books. His new arrest captures official attention.

To defend himself against charges that could result in his deportation, MacAldonich has to find big money and someone who will say his absence would be an “extreme hardship”. He goes to his old manager who instead of loaning money berates him.

MacAldonich calls his ex-wife with whom he has a teenaged girl he’s not seen since she was a child. His ex treats him with disdain and his daughter seems horrified at his drinking and behaviour at a lunch date. At this point we begin to wonder how he managed to tick off so many people.

MacAldonich’s  soulful approach to life is suddenly haunted, poisoned by secrets that have come to the top of a deep well. His actions in the wake of his arrest turn him upside down and make us wonder how we’d handle a sudden unveiling of his checkered past.

The shock hits him hard and reawakens demons, and his drunken abusive behaviour worsens. He tests people to see how far he can mess with them until they abandon him. He wants to fulfil some sort of prophetic loneliness. This nice fella we have come to like is charging to the edge of the cliff.

Carlyle grabs the role and makes it his, morphing him from the good guy to the thoughtless asshole in a few days. What made him this way? Carlyle’s brilliance serves the piece in MacAldonich’ active, drunk moments and his reflective, black moments are just as illuminating.

Sounds like a cliché, but when he’s hammering an irrigation device into the ground, you just know he’s been doing that for fifteen years. Just as you know he’s been carrying one of the worst secrets one could.

California Solo could flow better and use some scripting adjustments. It’s a familiar theme and story, but to Lewy’s great credit, he hired the right guy to star that was obviously in love with the role.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Rated 14A
Cast: Robert Carlye, Danny Masterson, Kathleen Wilhoite
Directed by: Marshall Lewy

Top image: A scene from California Solo.

Anne Brodie

About Anne Brodie

Anne Brodie is a freelance film reporter and critic.