This is my final review from this year’s EIFF. It is a film that I had hoped to see earlier in the fortnight, but the screenings kept clashing with other movies that I wanted to see more. I got to it in the end though. And now I’m going to get some much-deserved sleep while you read on.
Imagine Liam Gallagher had died…
Lachlan MacAldonich used to be lead guitarist for The Cranks, one of Britpops rising star bands. When Lachlan’s brother Jed – the band’s singer and driving force – OD’d, Lachlan stayed in the US and withdrew himself from the rock and roll lifestyle, eventually finding work managing a farm. After a DUI conviction, he suddenly finds himself facing possible deportation and must come to terms with his past if he is to successfully move on with his future.
Writer-director Marshall Lewy is not so much telling a story of a man, he’s painting a picture of him. California Solo is a character piece in the truest sense of the term. The actual plot of the film (such as it is) is only the frame that the canvas is stretched on. For a character piece to work as a film, I would say there are three things you need: first, you need a character that is likeable enough that the audience can identify with him; second, you need a character that is also compelling in some way so that the audience will want to identify with him; and third you need an actor of the highest calibre, someone who can competely inhabit a role even while appearing in all but three shots in the entire movie. This film manages one of those goals. Robert Carlyle is a fantastic actor who commits fully to this role that was written with him in mind, but unfortunately Lachlan MacAldonich is a bit of a prick.
Here is a man who has continuously ran away from every problem and set-back he ever had, whether it was his brother’s death, the end of his marriage, or his daughter’s estrangement, finally arriving at this farm not far outside LA where he lives and works. His only contact with the outside world is through his regular podcast where he plays the music of the greats who died young. The only problem now is that aside from the one place he swore he would never go back to, there is nowhere left for him to run when his personal doo-doo/fan interface occurs. If any actor other than Robert Carlyle had been playing Lachlan I would probably have been completely taken out of the movie, but Carlyle manages to make you, if not like him very much, at least kind of care what happens. He manages to find a shred of struggling humanity behind the petulance and selfishness that have been dulled by living the quiet life, but not eliminated altogether.
Since the film has such a constant and relentless focus, the other characters turn out to be little more than loose archetypes; stick-men next to the great portrait of Lachlan. The two who get the most screentime would be Beau and Walter. Beau is the pretty girl half his age who is a regular at Lachlan’s Farmer’s Market and the subject of his unrequited affections, and Walter is his eternally patient and kind boss; a man who in the real world would have fired the old Scot a hundred times over by the end of the movie. Hollywood stalwart A Martinez plays Walter with a quiet gravitas, while relative newcomer Alexia Rasmussen does good work without much help from the script as Beau.
Lewy directs unfussily, using lots of long lenses and careful use of focus to subtly illustrate and occasionally amplify Lachlan’s sense of isolation. He manages to show off a part of California not often seen in the movies. I haven’t seen his feature debut Blue State from 2007, but on the strength of this alone, I would say he is more talented as a director than as a writer. This is a reasonable way to pass ninety minutes, but it’s not going to set the world alight.