The theme of arrested development has been done many times in film, from serious films like Young Adult to comedies like Step Brothers. Rock and roll, of course, is the perfect vehicle for freezing someone in time — after all, how often do we find ourselves talking about how a song “really takes me back?” Especially for music that one listened to in one’s formative years — like high school and college. Rock star dreams die hard, as evidenced by one of my father’s former friends who, though in his mid-fifties, hasn’t quite thrown in the towel on his dream of becoming a rock star. So from that perspective Roadie is a movie with a plot that is very versatile, but the essential problem with the movie is that this type of “you can’t go home again” story could go in so many directions, yet Roadie doesn’t stray too far from the safe route.
The plot setup is the most interesting part of the movie. Jimmy Testagross (Ron Eldard) has just been fired from his twenty-plus year stint as a roadie for Blue Öyster Cult, the early metal band which reached its peak in popularity in the late 1970s and early 1980s (though they still tour to sizable crowds today). With no other options (and seemingly no other tours looking for him), the middle-aged Jimmy returns home to Forest Hills, Queens to visit his elderly mother (Lois Smith), whom Jimmy has hardly seen since he started touring. Jimmy’s mother is lonely and forgetful, and it’s obvious that she needs him around though he isn’t interested. Stopping in a local bar, he is reunited with Randy (Bobby Cannavale), who used to pick on him in high school and his wife Nikki (Jill Hennessy), who used to be Jimmy’s girlfriend. Nikki is now an aspiring middle-aged musician, and Jimmy, hesitant to admit his real-life situation, tells everyone that he is the manager, producer, and co-songwriter of the band. As more people are introduced from Jimmy’s old life, it becomes clearer why he spent his entire adult life on the road, especially since it doesn’t take long for Jimmy to realize that he has a lot more in common with Nikki than her husband does.
Jimmy isn’t a particularly likable character — you completely understand why the band decided to sack him — and it’s hard to have much sympathy for him when the movie focuses on the sad idea that some people are completely unable to get over the past. The fact that none of the film’s main characters seem to be able to get over their own pasts doesn’t really make you pity them. The characters are all archetypes — Jimmy is Peter Pan, Randy is the jock who was a star in high school and poseur in adulthood, and Nikki is the one that got away. The actors play their roles well enough — all three leads do well — but the film’s story just isn’t sustainable for a feature-length movie. In particular, the three have a party in a hotel room that is drawn out so long that it seems to take up nearly a third of the movie’s 95 minutes.
I was surprised to find out the film was directed and co-written by Michael Cuesta, who has been a more successful storyteller in films like L.I.E. and on TV’s Six Feet Under. Visually the film works — Forest Hills is captured as the older community it generally is — and the soundtrack is excellent, but the setting, music, and actors cannot drive along a narrative that just doesn’t have enough story for a feature-length film.
I really wanted to like Roadie, but it’s difficult for me to like a film if I’m not engaged in the characters’ conflicts. The script needed a better hook to make the movie say something unique.
Rating: This story has been done better before, which makes it all the more disappointing. (4/10)
Disc Rating: Stills from the movie… not even a trailer for the movie. (0.5/10)
Roadie is available from Magnolia Home Entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray on March 23.