Woe is the rocker whose career is cut short by a more talented sibling/bandmate's death, a plight played for earnest drunken-irresponsibility bathos in California Solo. Years removed from his heyday as the Britpop guitarist sidekick to his now-dead frontman brother, Lachlan (Robert Carlyle) toils away in anonymity on a U.S. farm. When a bit of behind-the-wheel boozing threatens to get him deported back to the U.K., Lachlan drinks more, scrambles about for cash, strikes up a pseudo-romance with a younger woman (Alexia Rasmussen), and reconnects with his long-estranged ex-wife (Kathleen Wilhoite) and teenage daughter (Savannah Lathem)—all scenarios that writer/director Marshall Lewy steeps in sparse, plaintive guitar strumming. Carlyle radiates soulfulness throughout his character's various self-destructive alcoholic escapades, and Lewy's focus is consistently on character emotion over overt melodrama. Lachlan's journey of self-discovery, however, is so thinly dramatized that any transformation feels like a device, and any modest hopefulness comes across as simply the unearned wishful thinking of the filmmaker. A final, wannabe-ambiguous shot attempts to complicate that optimism, but like too much of California Solo—which hits its notes with a somber-indie roteness that drains it of any spontaneity or volatility—it mainly feels like the last example of a film going through the motions. Nick Schager
Get the Film & TV Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.