There is an unusual downbeat spin on the sex; drugs and rock n roll that feature in Roadie, as director Michael Cuesta takes us on a journey of youthful dreams that have gone way out of tune. Despite the low budget of this film, it is a real showcase for the outsize acting talents of Jill Hennessey, Bobby Cannavale and Ron Eldard, and is suitably honest, gritty and uncategorizable.
Whilst the unique story could be a handicap as far as marketing is concerned, word of mouth should, hopefully, be a commercial counterweight. Scripted by Cuesta with his brother Gerald, the team responsible for the controversial 2011 film L.I.E which also had Michael at the helm, Roadie concentrated on the fringes of rock music, and Jimmy Testagross (Eldard) finds himself at 40, that ripe old rock n roll age.
He has been touring with Blue Oyster Cult since the 1980’s, the perfect band choice to explain the Queens/Long Island milieu for Roadie. Jimmy, however, has been sacked from their forthcoming tour and, having nowhere else to go, returns to his mothers home to both lick his wounds, use his mobile phone to harass his ex employers and enter a sort of time warp.
Shot in Forest Hills, Queens, where the story is set, and Brooklyn, Roadie is deeply immersed in blue collar New York, in the Italian sector to be precise, from the locals in the stores to the rusting Pontiac that Jimmy left on his neighbors (Catherine Wolf, David Margulies) driveway some time ago. How long ago is not clear, his mother (Lois Smith) clearly hasn’t seen him for years, but as she’s going a bit dotty, how many is also unclear.
What we see, from Jimmy’s point of view, is that he has an enforced early retirement to Queens, and taking over the care of his mother. It isn’t a pretty picture, and one that is devoid of groupies.
Eldard gives a superb performance as Jimmy, the roadie who has been lugging the bands gear around for 20 years, and is a fat, whining, uninspiring liar. He was neither the bands songwriter nor manager, but this is how he paints himself when he runs into 2 blasts from the past.
Randy (Cannavale) is an overbearing bearing who tortured Jimmy throughout high school and continues to butcher his name both unflatteringly and purposely. His wife Nikki (Hennessey) was an old flame of Jimmy’s and is an aspiring singer/songwriter who plies her trade by performing for crowds of 30-40 in the bars of Forest Hills. Its clear that they are all lost in a particular daydream, and also that there will be a disturbing wake up call.
The soundtrack to Roadie features some wonderful, evocative music that is out of these character’s collective past and, much like the main character, the film takes a bit of a pus to really get going. Thankfully it does this, both dramatically and emotionally, mainly thanks to the cast.
Eldard, (Black Hawk Down, True Love) apparently had to gain 38 pounds for this role, and effortlessly creates a character that invites both contempt and sympathy. Cannavale created in Randy the perfect example of a vile bully who never got beaten up, or grew up. Hennessey, who gets better in every film she appears in, performs her own music competently here, is superb as the local beauty who should have left the neighborhood, but didn’t.