For the CW Sundance 2012 preview feature, we offered purely speculative predictions about which of two films on a similar theme would wind up being most worthwhile. We now know that we got at least one of them—“Asshole Musicians in Transition”—right. ---
There are films that seem to exist strictly to give an actor a chance to inhabit a character, yet no matter how fully Robert Carlyle inhabits the lead role in California Solo, he can’t smooth out the crow’s feet on the “quest for redemption” storyline. Carlyle plays Lachlan, once a member of a never-quite-made-it-big 1990s band and now living a quietly pathetic life of working on an Antelope Valley farm, recording a podcast about tragically dead rock stars and drinking himself stupid several nights a week. One such evening lands him with a DUI charge, which could get the Scottish native deported. Writer/director Marshall Lewy wisely takes what would have been the centerpiece in an even more clichéd film—the fact that Lachlan has a teenage daughter he barely knows—and keeps it a peripheral element. But he doesn’t know quite what to fill that hole with instead, leaving a collection of minor subplots scrambling to seem interesting enough for this character. Carlyle is terrific when the story allows him to play the rascal, but the demons that haunt him feel forced, leaving a protagonist who should have been deported to a better movie.
Plenty of narrative clutter blows its way through Destin Daniel Cretton’s character study I Am Not a Hipster, but the stuff it gets right is so right that it’s hard to resist. Dominic Bogart stars as Brook Hyde, an indie singer-songwriter finding minor celebrity in the San Diego music scene, but too personally miserable to take any pleasure in it—perhaps mostly connected to his still-raw feelings over the death of his mother. Cretton at times seems to bounce around in his characterization of Brook—his compulsive watching of Japanese tsunami footage alternately feels like an affectation and a strain of genuine compassion—and never really explains the tension between Brook and his father. Then there are the big chunks of awesomeness: the utterly convincing affection between Brook and his three sisters; the motor-mouthed enthusiasm of Brook’s best friend (Alvaro Orlando); a terrifically awkward radio show in which Brook can’t be bothered to help the host (a marvelous Brad William Henke). While it could have been stronger in its look at the intersection of self-loathing and smug superiority as a lifestyle choice, Cretton gets a lot of mileage out of his bursts of authenticity.