Lachlan MacAldonich (Robert Carlyle), the central character in Marshall Lewy’s (Blue State) indie film California Solo, is a wretch of a man. Self-absorbed and self-destructive, the Scottish Lachlan is the former lead guitarist in a major 1990s Britpop band. Washed up, burnt out, and all but used up, Lachlan now exists in a self-imposed exile as an agricultural worker on a Southern California organic farm. Carlyle is mesmerizing as Lachlan in this melancholy character study—an indelible portrait of a life half wasted, yet ultimately still sparked with a glimmer of hope for redemption.
The Cranks had been at the height of their popularity, fueled by Lachlan’s older brother Jed, but on a trip to LA, Jed died of a drug overdose—with drugs supplied by an insistent Lachlan. Jed’s death has made it impossible for the guilt-ridden Lachlan to return to the U.K. and face the anger of friends, fans and family. So he stayed on in Southern California never returning home in 14 years, eventually becoming a permanent legal resident. “Practically a citizen,” Lachlan believes. But “practically” is the operative word.
By day, Lachlan works at the farm, and once a week, puts his considerable charm to work at selling the farm’s organic produce at an LA farmer’s market. Each night Lachlan hosts a podcast, bitterly recounting the too-short lives of musical greats who died tragically, called Flameouts before going to the local tavern to get drunk before heading back to the oblivion to his apartment.
On one of these nights, Lachlan is stopped by the police, arrested for a DUI, his field sobriety test many times above allowable limits. But once in custody, a look back into his records by the police discovers a many-years old drug charge for possession of marijuana. It’s enough to warrant deportation action by U.S. immigration, and Lachlan’s attempt to stay in the U.S. where he wants to live out his days in peaceful anonymity—and not return home—fuels the film’s plot.
But the threat of deportation also leads to a long-overdue day of self-reckoning for Lachlan—a time when finally, he consider facing up to his past, and his future. There is no easy way out, as past actions and a steadfast refusal to stare into his own abyss, have used up most of his emotional capital with the few people who might actually care about him.
His charms are not completely lost, however on the lovely Beau (Alexia Rasmussen, Our Idiot Brother), a regular at the farmers market, who sees in Lachlan a kindred spirit to her own sadness. She has a boyfriend, Cranks fan and D.J. Paul (Danny Masterson, Yes Man), so their relationship really doesn’t get past mild flirtation (and lots of drinking). It’s an interesting, but subtle, note in the film—and Carlyle’s performance—that Lachlan’s self-loathing (and perhaps self-absorption) is so profound that he never even attempts to push their relationship a step further.
Carlyle has played a huge range of unforgettable characters throughout his career, from the psychotic to sweet, always layering each character with depth and complexity, giving us reasons to care about even his most despicable characters. We care about Lachlan; we care about the tragedy that has stunted his existence into the cramped confines of a dark, tiny, cluttered house and a bottle of whiskey. We can imagine through Carlyle’s expressive eyes young rock star Lachlan with nothing but partying and gigging to care about, whose life was broken in a terrible instant and never set back to rights—a self-inflicted wound that time has not healed.
A. Martinez gives a textured, understated performance as Lachlan’s boss and owner of the farm. Kathleen Winhoite (Lorenzo’s Oil) plays Lachlan’s ex-wife Catherine, who, although she’s not seen him in years, knows him well enough to have heard it all, refusing be drawn—along with their teenage daughter Arianwen (Savannah Lathem, Diary of a Wimpy Kid)—into Lachlan’s chaos.
California Solo, screened at the 2012 Chicago Movies and Music Festival (CIMMfest) April 15, after its Sundance premiere earlier this year, has been acquired by Strand Releasing for U.S. distribution this autumn.