Judge Russell Engebretson prefers Homey to Roadie.
It was fun while it lasted.
Roadie, written and directed by Michael Cuesta, is an unassuming slice of life that rejects melodrama in favor of a realistic take on how one man deals with the end of a lifelong dream job.
Facts of the Case
For a quarter of a century, Jimmy (Ron Eldard, Super 8) has been happily employed as a roadie for the rock band Blue Oyster Cult, but Jimmy's world comes crashing down around his ears when he is fired (by telephone, no less), and stranded somewhere in Michigan. With no family or permanent residence, no ties at all beyond his life on the road with the band, he feels he has no choice but to return to his mother's home in Queens to gather up the pieces and figure out where to go from there. Jimmy's widowed mother (Lois Smith, Five Easy Pieces) is happy to see her son, but angry that he has not called or visited in many years. She also appears to be in the early stage of Alzheimer's disease, continually wandering from the house in mid-chore to tend her small backyard garden.
While sipping a drink at the local watering hole, Jimmy Testagross runs into an old friend, Randy Stevens (Bobby Cannavale, Win Win), actually a bully who tormented him mercilessly in high school. Still a bully in middle age, Randy taunts Jimmy in mock-friendly fashion by referring to him as "Testicles," the nasty nickname hung on him in his teens. Jimmy is shocked to discover that his first love, Nikki (Jill Hennessy, Wild Hogs), is married to the loathsome Randy. Nikki, who has a gig singing and playing guitar at the bar, seems genuinely pleased to see Jimmy. However, when Jimmy exaggerates the importance of his job (claiming to manage Blue Oyster Cult and have written some of their songs), Nikki's eyes light up with the possibility of an insider slipping her demo CD into the hands of a record producer. A friendly get-together with Nikki and her husband, prior to one of her shows, becomes increasingly uneasy as Jimmy's resentments begin to surface. The little party ultimately blows apart under the strain of too much coke, booze, and buried anger.
The characters in Roadie are ambiguous and slippery enough to pass for real people. Neither heroic nor purely villainous, they are simply getting by day to day. Nikki may be playing up to Jimmy in the hope of a record deal, but she has feelings for him that seem equal parts genuine affection and a longing for lost innocence. We can only speculate why Jimmy was fired, whether due to age, too much drug use, incompetence, or just luck of the draw when the band's management had to decide who to cut. What we do know is that Jimmy loved his job, was selfishly neglectful of his mother, and still has feelings for his old flame, but enough sense not to make a move on her—hardly the makings of an epic protagonist. I suppose if there is anyone close to a real antagonist, it's Randy.
The character of Randy Stevens makes a strong case for the theory that schoolyard bullies never fade away; they grow up to torment adults, albeit in more subtle and crafty ways. Randy's asininity does serve a purpose in the furtherance of Jimmy's character arc. Randy doesn't know when to quit, and continues to belittle Jimmy even as his wife screams at her husband to cease and desist. Jimmy's epiphany, or the closest thing he has to one, occurs when Randy blurts out who actually hung the hateful nickname on him.
In the end, Roadie is a simple story about common, working class people. There are no deaths, car crashes, or unexpected twists. There is a fair amount of illegal substance use and some profanity, but no nudity or even an implied sex scene. Despite the story's low=key approach and concentration on characters, the film, much to its credit, steers well clear of soap opera excess.
Extras are pitifully slim: a photo gallery and a puff piece from HDNet. Roadie (Blu-ray)'s picture quality is a mixed bag. The 1080p/1.78:1 transfer is soft for high-def, even on closeups, but more detailed than a DVD. The color pallet is muted, but naturalistic and in keeping with the tone of the movie. I didn't spot any glaring digital artifacts. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is fine, with a nice surround swirl for the music, and clear, easily understood dialogue. Blue Oyster Cult, collaborating with the likes of new wave rocker Patti Smith and science fiction author John Shirley, was one of the great, underappreciated rock bands of the Seventies and Eighties (their music sometimes referred to as "thinking man's metal"), and the tracks used in the film are wonderfully reproduced with plenty of punch and clarity.
Roadie strives for realism and honesty, and it will be disliked by some viewers for its simplicity of plot and understated approach. I found it to be solidly acted and well-edited, a delightful, melancholy meditation on how most people muddle through their lives from one day to the next. It's worthy, at least, of a rental.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
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