Robert Carlyle gives a fine performance as a washed up Britpop musician forced to face his demons
Screenwriter and director Marshall Lewy apparently wrote the role of burnt-out Scottish rock guitarist and former star of the nineties Britpop music scene Lachlan MacAldonich specifically for his leading man Robert Carlyle. It’s certainly a canny choice, given Carlyle used to be in a band as a teenager, is mates with a few of the faces of Britpop and, most importantly, has the screen presence and acting chops to play a charismatic musician and a man battling some debilitating personal demons.
When we meet MacAldonich, he’s living in self-imposed exile on a farm outside of Los Angeles. His only musical activity is a nightly podcast called Flame-Outs, during which he harps on about the tragic lives of musicians who died young. In marked contrast, MacAldonich has suppressed any kind of engagement with his old life as a member of The Cranks, which was cut short by the death of the band’s singer, his brother, for which MacAldonich seems guilty of a degree of culpability. His life of self-satisfied obscurity, however, looks like it’s going to come to an abrupt end when a drink-driving arrest results in the unforeseen threat of deportation back to the country he took flight from. Suddenly, the past, and all the emotions suppressed and people connected with it, come back to haunt MacAldonich.
As is the case with so many films about fictional musicians, California Solo (the title refers to the one album MacAldonich made post-The Cranks) is about a man who has, or is about to hit rock bottom. And it follows the familiar storyline in which an individual who has lead an extremely hedonistic life is forced to accept responsibility for his actions, pay his dues and make amends. So, while California Solo is a pretty well crafted film, it feels unexceptional because it lacks originality. Nevertheless, Carlyle carries the film with a typically dedicated performance. And he can carry a tune, too.
Showing at Edinburgh International Film Festival on Thu 28 Jun and Sat 30 Jun.