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.