Equal parts character study and realistic depiction of an aging star, “California Solo” dares not to conform to cliché, instead portraying the gripping story of an enchanting lead character.
The film follows fading British pop idol Lachlan MacAldonich (Robert Carlyle), a down on his luck former guitarist who spends his days tending to farmland along the outskirts of Los Angeles.
Despite his earlier success in an almost-famous grunge band, The Cranks, MacAldonich lives in exile and accepts customs that are a far cry from his Scottish upbringing. Harrowing memories of his late brother and band mate, Jed, coupled with the satisfaction he finds in anonymity allow MacAldonich to embrace his simple existence in America. Demons from MacAldonich’s past, however, return to haunt him when he faces deportation for a string of drug- and alcohol-related arrests.
“California Solo” goes to great lengths to create a layered protagonist. From the first shot to the last, MacAldonich’s successes and shortcomings are personified through the snowballing events that ultimately define his existence. Naturally, the film’s contents require an omnipresent main character, yet this approach leaves the supporting players in the dark. In every scene where MacAldonich shares dialogue with another actor, the focus on his reactions and lines takes away from the events to which he must react.
Many of the one-on-one encounters MacAldonich engages in with other characters are sadly unrefined and feel insignificant. Once the film ends, it is perplexing to think about exactly where the story line started and where it finished. Perhaps it would have been more effective as a one-man play, as Carlyle masterfully portrays MacAldonich as a good man in a less than ideal situation.
As MacAldonich fights the oppressive reality of repatriation, he reflects on his experiences in America, including the life he has created in his shielded agricultural job. Despite his desire to maintain American citizenship, he still continues to indulge in vices that have marred his past.
But these wrongdoings are what make MacAldonich an interesting and endearing character. If he were an angel or complete delinquent, the viewer might have trouble empathizing with him. As contrived as his chances at redemption are, he ultimately makes a shocking decision, one that many viewers might not have expected. “California Solo” shares an interesting, sympathetic perspective on the life and times of a complex and captivating man.
Nora Blake is a contributing writer. Email her at [email protected]