The versatile Robert Carlyle hits a melancholy note in 'California Solo'
But Lachlan's genial not caring much about anything, it seems, when he's stopped careening home down the highway after bar-time. The resulting DUI charge, even its four-month drivers' license suspension, wouldn't be such a big deal if it didn't turn out that a long-prior pot conviction makes him eligible for deportation despite his green card. And Lachlan really, really does not want to go back to the UK He's buried himself here precisely to avoid the massive fuckup that no one there would be likely to have forgotten — that he was once the guitarist in "Britain's biggest band" (at least for one NME minute), and that the major casualty of his stupid rock-star antics was the "British Kurt Cobain," his brother Jed. When he crawls to the Beverly Hills manse of erstwhile music biz associate Wendell (Michael Des Barres, disturbingly well cast as an oily industry survivor) to beg for immigration lawyer money, the latter snaps "I was never your manager. I was never your friend. Jed was the band."
Cue further self-destructive impulses, not at all eased by the pleading cow eyes Lachlan makes at sympathetic Beau (Alexia Rasmussen), a much younger customer he chats up at the farmer's market each Sunday. (It's even more embarrassing when Danny Masterson as her age-appropriate DJ boyfriend realizes "who he is," and pours on the hero worship.) Even more painful are Lachlan's attempts to re-establish some relationship with the bitter mother (Kathleen Wilhoite) of his now-teenaged daughter (Savannah Lathern) so he can claim his deportation would be a hardship to them.
Those last sequences are truly squirm-inducing, because the gap between Lachlan's desire to do something right for a change and his haplessness at actually doing it is so palpable — we know it's unfair he's looking like a "reet eedyut," but we also know he's entirely brought it on himself. This is where an actor like Caryle knows how to go for the throat without seeming to reach for effect at all. He makes the depth of Lachlan's self-loathing so palpable you want to hug him. After you've slapped him ... but still.
Lewy also wrote and directed the very astute indie drama Blue State (2007), and if he didn't craft Solo specifically for its Carlyle's floppy-haired, ever-apologetic charm — well, didn't he? This is the kind of very good movie that surprises when it actually turns up in theaters, however few. No matter that whoever actually sees the undeniably depressing-sounding California Solo will likely find it — and its star — endearing, poignant, ultimately upbeat. It's even sort of a perfect early-date movie, softening up the emotions with male fragility redeemable by female generosity and forgiveness.
CALIFORNIA SOLO opens Fri/11 in Bay Area theaters.