A pick rakes gracefully across a beautiful six string and the sound of music is heard. Like many fictional films featuring a musician as the focus, California Solo is a breezy story about the highs and lows of fame and the dangers of excess. The early 90s saw an explosion of new wave and alternative music coming out of the La Hacienda/Manchester scene. The kids who grew up listening to 70s and 80s punk were now anxious to have their voice heard as well as set new standards for what it means to be a rock legend. But every party has to come to an end and when it does and the hangover sets in, you will have to deal with the consequences of your decisions.
Lachlan MacAldonich (Robert Carlyle) is a modest Scotsman. He lives in the Californian countryside where he passes his time and makes a living as a farmer. When the day’s work has finished he frequents a local watering hole for a whiskey or six. In his free time Lachlan hosts a podcast called “Flame-Out” where he talks about the tragically extraordinary deaths of the world’s greatest musicians, encouraged by an open bottle to offer his respects.
Following a drunk-driving charge, Lachlan’s history is slowly revealed like guitar going out of tune: easy to notice but difficult to identify by the untrained ear. Once the guitarist of the infamous British band The Cranks with his brother and lead singer Jed, he no longer will pick up a guitar let alone discuss his time near the top. After a massively successful freshman album, the band seemed ready to make their name as well known Stateside before the untimely death of Jed due to bad drugs. Taking personal responsibly for his brother’s death, Lachlan has not returned home in over a decade, afraid to face his family and friends but this DUI may force the reunion as his US citizenship faces the possibility of being revoked.
Accompanied by an exquisite playlist, California Solo proves itself an enjoyable story of pain and loss with the possibility of redemption. The script seems to be written specifically for Carlyle — the title actually deriving from his own solo album — and the character shares many aspects with the narratives lead. Carlyle plays guitar and played in a band as a teenager. Though he may have never struck it as big as his character, Carlyle still understands how the industry works and the rush of being on stage as well as the dangers of easily obtainable narcotics.
Though his DUI may force Lachlan to face the demons of his past it also compels him to confront the family he never got the chance to know. His ex-wife and daughter have lived happily without the constant drama that Lachlan causes for himself. In order to retain his citizenship though, Lachlan must get them to sign a document which states they would experience extreme emotional distress if required to leave the country. While his ex is quick to explain she won’t commit perjury, his daughter is intrigued by her father though sorely disappointed he didn’t put more of an effort to be apart of her childhood. It is this narrative that takes up the final 20 minutes of the film and allows Lachlan the opportunity to save himself or face the music he’s avoided for so long.
Carlyle is in top form in California Solo creating a character that doesn’t deserve your sympathy but one that garners it nonetheless. Director Marshall Lewy, who also wrote the screenplay, offers his audience the choice of cheering Lachlan into adulthood or as the subject of the next episode of “Flame Out.” Fatherhood may not be very rock star but when he picks up his acoustic and feels the wood of the neck, a rush of inspiration seems to take over and the whiskey glaze over his eyes shifts to the twinkle of realization for what it means to grow up.