Review: California Solo (2012)

4

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Cast: Robert Carlyle, Alexia Rasmussen, Kathleen Wilhoite
Director: Marshall Lewy
Country: USA
Genre: Drama
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Note: California Solo opens in the Carlton cinema, Toronto tomorrow, March 1st, and is available on DVD and VOD from March 5th

“I’m just a moderately lazy Scotsman,” protests Lachlan MacAldonich, former lead guitarist of an ill-fated emergent rock band, as he’s faced with potential deportation from his home of the last twelve years in the wake of a DUI arrest. It’s one of deceptively few amusing lines in California Solo, a quietly sombre film despite the indie charm of its premise and protagonist both; cloaked as it is in the familiar trappings of low-budget whimsy, it’s all the more impressive that the movie—writer/director Marshall Lewy’s second feature effort—should manage so many moments of difficult drama, its initially unremarkable plot belying a profound understanding of the depths of this character.

Every nuance of Carlyle’s performance expands this man beyond the caricature into which he could—indeed should, by all means—easily fall. His Lachlan often teeters precariously on the very precipice of protagonism, Lewy’s unsentimental script prodding him in darkly dangerous directions a less adventurous production would never dare explore.

solo3Robert Carlyle, an excellent actor all-too-often consigned to the sidelines in supporting roles, invests his every talent in this character, engorging a rare lead role with an emotionally engulfing exhibition of performative range. Variously a charmer and a loser, a hero and a bum, Lachlan transcends the easy classification his seemingly archetypal nature would appear to afford him; he is, rather than being defined by the tenets of the aged rocker stock character, defined against them. Every nuance of Carlyle’s performance expands this man beyond the caricature into which he could—indeed should, by all means—easily fall. His Lachlan often teeters precariously on the very precipice of protagonism, Lewy’s unsentimental script prodding him in darkly dangerous directions a less adventurous production would never dare explore.

Consummate though Carlyle’s is, a performance is only as effective as the direction it’s given; Lewy channels the Scotsman’s intensity with a fixated precision, embellishing Carlyle’s work with as much purpose as Carlyle does the words on his page Theirs is a sure-footed symbiosis of complementary talents, each feeding off the other’s strengths to form a pairing whose whole far exceeds the sum of its parts. Lewy likes to frame Lachlan against the agrarian backdrop he’s come to assume as a home of sorts—insofar as his restless, troubled spirit can assume one—the slight rays of sunlight penetrating the frayed greys of the musician’s hair as it does the various crops with which he makes his living.

As the drama progresses it comes to emerge that, of course, Lachlan’s DUI is less an accident of ill-timing than it is an inevitable eventuality fulfilled. He is a man at once uncomfortably tethered to the past and fearfully unwilling to let that tether gain slack; fully aware that one must step back to spring forward, but uncompromisingly resistant to make that difficult move.

solo4It’s not a critique to say that California Solo’s is a story streaked by stale elements; rather, it’s a contextual gauge against which the film’s successes can be measured, Lewy’s uncanny ability to transcend the limitations of his establishment showcasing his strengths as a filmmaker given to exposing the bitter wounds that continue to inflict pain beneath the façade of smiles honed over years of stoic deflection. It’s in the disharmonious rhythm he establishes with composer T. Griffin that these tepid tropes of indie plots aplenty are subverted, music the natural way in to the truth of a man content to hide his woes behind this convenient barricade.

As the drama progresses it comes to emerge that, of course, Lachlan’s DUI is less an accident of ill-timing than it is an inevitable eventuality fulfilled. He is a man at once uncomfortably tethered to the past and fearfully unwilling to let that tether gain slack; fully aware that one must step back to spring forward, but uncompromisingly resistant to make that difficult move. His circumstances, as Lewy envisions them, are not without their cinematic equal; his pain, as Carlyle presents it and both manage to direct it toward an understanding of this man and his difficulties, is.

[notification type=”star”]79/100 ~ GOOD. California Solo‘s initially unremarkable plot belies a profound understanding of the depths of its protagonist.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.

  • Robert Carlyle has come such a long way since Trainspotting, I’m kinda proud of him and I want to watch this movie.

  • Ronan Doyle

    It’s certainly the finest performance I’ve seen from him. Makes you wish he could be seen in lead roles more often.

  • Never heard of this movie before, thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  • Shari Ballon

    Thanks for the reviews. I missed this one but now look forward to seeing it.