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2011 | 95 min | R | 1.85:1



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Theatrical release date

 06 January, 2012

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from Roadie Blu-ray

Roadie Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, January 5, 2012

There’s much to appreciate about the independent production “Roadie,” and one element that’s fairly easy to detest. For the most part, this is a peaceful character study about lives in neutral, greeting a trio of adults clinging to the eroding vitality and promise of their youth, facing a far more dismal reality miles away from the glory they’ve envisioned for themselves. It’s a humorous, itchy ride of remembrance with one distinct creative speed bump, but co-writer/director Michael Cuesta grasps an appealing mood of discomfort that’s marvelously executed by the cast, hitting a few persuasive beats of disappointment and resignation that keeps the story grounded in an intriguing, lived-in reality.

After nearly three decades of service to the Blue Oyster Cult as a loyal roadie, Jimmy Testagross (Ron Eldard) has been fired, left with nowhere to go after a life of constant travel. Returning to his childhood home to stay with his elderly mother (Lois Smith, in a sweetly blunt supporting performance), Jimmy finds the neighborhood he left behind hasn’t changed much since his heyday of rock music, teen angst, and chemical excess. Spotted by high school bully Bobby (Bobby Cannavale), Jimmy is reunited with Nikki (Jill Hennessy), his former girlfriend and now the wife of his hallway adversary. Reconnecting with his lost love, Jimmy is lulled back into a sense of superiority, fueled by the lies he’s dropping that sell him as a major player in the record business. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long before his deceit is challenged, leaving Jimmy in a brutal position of reflection he’s been avoiding his entire life.

“Roadie” is a small-scale drama that’s ideally suited to Cuesta’s gifts of neighborhood observation, bringing the conflicts to Queens, where Jimmy is surrounded by a community that’s barely shifted while he’s been out seeing the world from the back of a tour bus. It’s that aura of familiarity that keeps the movie delightfully disoriented for the first half, with the script embracing limited but potent opportunities for uneasiness as Jimmy settles back into his old haunts, finding his childhood bedroom still devoted to album rock miracles, while the local streets carry the same distressed appeal, only now they’re manned by senior citizens and strangers. Cuesta knows how to photograph the specificity of his locations, generating a sublime flow of memories and anxieties that plague Jimmy as he cautiously works his way back into his ancient routine, armed with snowballing deception and a mismanaged desire to rekindle what was lost with Nikki.

These early scenes of reentry are quite special, genuine in their feel for apprehension, allowing Eldard to mount an endearing range of reluctant reactions, portraying Jimmy as a man who just wants to survive the day, only to be pulled back into his past by the allure of redemption. It’s an atypically strong performance from the longtime actor, who’s finally found a bodily comfort with Jimmy’s shaggy hair and beard, fighting the surplus weight of his middle age. The character is gracefully explored, holding a fascinating sense of regret that’s portioned out sensibly by Cuesta, keeping Jimmy’s agitation understandable. Eldard is matched well by Hennessy, who also possesses a welcome complexity of behavior -- she’s an aspiring singer who’s never left the block, clearly aware of Jimmy’s fragile feelings, careful to keep her ex in play for both professional and personal reasons. Cannavale is the showboat of the trio, but it’s hard to keep away from Eldard and Hennessy for long.

With the reunion comes a revelation of drug abuse, with Jimmy yanked into Bobby’s orbit of cocaine use and dingy hotel partying. It’s a lengthy scene of heart-pounding confession and creative expression for all of the characters, captured with a raw, neon-lit energy by the director, who’s fascinated with this toxic atmosphere of reminiscence and coke-dusted aggression as feelings and resentments buried deep vomit forth for a fresh inspection. It’s a clichéd run of manic behavior, electing an obvious path of compulsion when a series of hesitant conversations would’ve been far more enlightening, sustaining the bubble of bad decisions to a satisfying climax. However, self-destruction and all acts of booze-soaked bottoming out form the finale of the feature, bringing a welcomingly reserved, finely observed film to a predictable close.

Starring: Ron Eldard, Bobby Cannavale, Jill Hennessy
Director: Michael Cuesta

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