Film Review: Roadie

Terrific contemporary drama about a veteran Queens, New York roadie who’s been sacked after decades hauling equipment for Blue Oyster Cult is a gripping portrait of a flawed loser that allows Ron Eldard to shine.

Again displaying remarkable skill, filmmaker Michael Cuesta, who scored years back with L.I.E., directed and co-wrote Roadie with brother Gerald. Star Ron Eldard, as the sinking rock ’n’ roller desperately holding on to an era and his illusions and charade as big-deal music man, won’t be the only reason critics and quality-seeking, cross-generational audiences weaned on rock will jump on the stage for this. Yes, Roadie debuted on video-in-demand in early December, but this is really a big-screen treat that eloquently speaks universal truths and emotions to all those with a rock past who either listened, performed and maybe allowed too much fun and indulgence into their lives.

Eldard gives an amazing performance, enormously helped by a tremendous supporting cast and Cuesta’s strength as writer and director. The filmmaker also showed savvy by shooting in Queens (and maybe Brooklyn), as such ’hood atmosphere serves his hero’s sad and wobbly return to brutal reality. It’s a humdrum neighborhood of nice, small homes and mom-and-pop stores that the hero fled for rock glory but now must take cover in.
Roadie maybe not coincidentally begins on a lonely road where Jimmy (Eldard) pleads on his cell to get hired back for a South American leg of a Blue Oyster Cult tour. It’s obvious Jimmy is being let go after decades as flunky with the big-hair white band that is slowly doing its own fade from rock glory.

With no job, no dough, no home, Jimmy must head to his old haunts. He awkwardly reconnects with his widowed ailing mom (beautifully played by Lois Smith). She signals the trouble he is and has been. But she soldiers nobly to hide the fact that she’s wounded and has been neglected by her only offspring, who long ago abandoned the nest and made a clean break.

Cleverly, Mom functions as a revealing window into Jimmy, a selfish, profoundly uncaring, easy-with-a-lie son who won’t own up to what he was (a roadie nobody) and what he is now (just a nobody).

He ignores longtime neighbors, the Mullers, who are also friends of his mom’s, even though Mr. Muller (David Margulies) has become a stroke victim. When Jimmy’s mother sends him on an errand for butter, he detours into the old bar hangout where he bumps into bullying, big-mouth classmate Randy (Bobby Cannavale), now running a car dealership and married to Jimmy’s high-school crush Nikki (Jill Hennessy), who plays gigs at the bar and is trying to make it as a rock singer.

As Jill and Jimmy, who pretends to be tight as glue and more to Blue Oyster Cult, rekindle a little of what they had back when, Jill, Randy and Jimmy party like the old days in a motel room, this time as a warm-up to Jill’s gig that night. The booze and drugs serve no good purpose except to reveal Jimmy’s true character. His post-party trek home is a poetic metaphor of a personal hell.

Roadie delivers large doses of rock, whether familiar ’80s sounds or Jill’s wannabe stabs at stardom. But it’s the authenticity infusing Roadie that is its intoxicating “music.” We may or may not like Jimmy or cry for his also-suffering Mom, but we know their pain so well.