Scottish-born actor Robert Carlyle may be familiar to some thanks to his current role on the American TV show “Once Upon a Time,” but for other fans he’ll always be known best for his hard-drinking, hard-fighting part in the 1996 film “Trainspotting.” His role in the new “California Solo” plays well off that iconography, as the film casts Carlyle as a former mid-level, mid-'90s Britpop star now working in self-imposed anonymity on an organic farm in California.
Written and directed by Marshall Lewy, the film is for most of its running a quietly controlled character study of a man working hard at being low-key. Oddly, the film is at its best when Carlyle’s character is at his most isolated, keeping others at arms’ length and noting with a mix of pride and resignation that there is not one person in the country who cares whether he stays or not. (Actress Alexia Rasmussen makes a strong impression blowing through as a fresh breeze — a customer who starts to draw him out of his shell.)
Once a small fissure in the former guitar-slinger’s carefully organized life leads to escalating problems, the story becomes more conventional — a dad trying to reconnect with his daughter, a man struggling to hold self-destructive impulses at bay. In some sense, “California Solo” is like meeting an engaging stranger: At first there’s a certain air of enigmatic mystery that makes you want to spend time with them, but eventually things turn awkward and you just want to get away.
“California Solo” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. At the Nuart.