Jimmy Testagross is returning home to Queens huskier, middle-aged, and not nearly the man he expected to be. His rockstar dreams turned into excessive fandom, as he became a roadie for the Blue Oyster Cult, logging considerable mileage but eventually ending up without much industry respect to show for the time spent carrying guitars, loading up trucks, and managing the dietary habits of aging musicians. While it’s clear he’s not going to be a part of the band’s future, he now walks the abandoned streets of his hometown, visiting familiar haunts while his fist remains clenched around the exotic promise of South America, the next stop on the Cult tour.
Her dreams were similar, and like Jimmy, they haven’t taken her to the life of riches she expected. Open mics are her grand stage, as she peddles her self-produced CDs of acoustic singer-songwriter confessionals. When Jimmy recognizes her hunger for anything even remotely rock and roll, he begins perpetuating the lie that he’s actually Blue Oyster Cult’s manager and occasional songwriter. Whether Nikki is dubious or accepting of his lie is unclear, though from the off it doesn’t pass the smell test with her husband Randy.
As Jimmy, Ron Eldard is both affecting and pathetic. Despite years on the road, he is stymied by a coffee machine, and helpless at the sight of laundry. After 26 years away, he’s back to helping his mother (Lois Smith, dignified and compassionate) plant tomatoes. Eldard is clearly not afraid of showing an undeveloped paunch, or letting his voice crack when he gets angry, giving a performance of surprising depth.
“Roadie” is a film of small ambitions - the picture seems less concerned with having you like or root for the underachieving Jimmy than simply depicting the world of shame he occupies. But it rings true in the small details: the ageism of returning home, exemplified by Jimmy’s avoidance of the elderly neighbors; the sadness of a roadie fixing a guitar, the mythical tool he can grasp, but never wield on stage; and, most importantly, the value of rock as a concept that makes a roadie’s life worth living. When Jimmy waxes philosophically on the merits of Blue Oyster Cult, describing them without condescension as “thinking man’s metal,” it’s the one moment Jimmy emerges from his why-me doldrums to illustrate the passion great music can inspire. And when Jimmy and Nikki begin to bond while listening to old records by the Good Rats, there’s the feeling of rock past and rock present delicately informing each other, showcasing the necessity of both. [B+]
This is a reprint of our review from the Tribeca Film Festival.