A special treat for Queens New Yorkers, this no holds barred drama will reflect with less intensity the farther it travels.
“Roadie” is a film made for New Yorkers. Like many before it, it explores the some-times traumatic experience of becoming an adult against the backdrop of the old neighborhoods of New York City.
Jimmy Testagross (played by Ron Eldard, “Black Hawk Down” and “House of Sand and Fog”) was one of those few people who received what he wished for. For some twenty years he worked as roadie for the band of his dreams, Blue Oyster Cult.
A man with no apparent talent he parleyed some luck and a lot of desire into an insider’s place in the velvet lined world of the rock and roll elite.
The film begins with a great series of phone conversations between Jimmy and some unnamed, unseen decision maker in the nearly defunct BOC organization. These phone calls are a powerful testament to the strong direction of Michael Cuesta and screenwriting skills of his collaboration with his brother Gerald.
Michael pocketed a bushel of awards for his unvarnished look at teenage misadventure in L.I.E. He has returned to the Long Island Expressway neighborhoods he knows so well to examine the man that grew out of a teenager who made it on his own.
Through the course of several phone calls Jimmy drifts closer to destitute poverty and closer to his childhood home. He is getting the runaround from his former pals with BOC who are scrambling for club gigs and country fairs to pay the bills.
The worst is that he does not command the respect from what is left of the group to get an honest answer. He has no friends from twenty years of work and he nowhere else to go.
He drifts home to say hello to his semi-senile mother (TV and film icon Lois Smith, “Please Give” and “Five Easy Pieces”) who is, of course, happy to see him. It is as if Jimmy is seeing his life pass in front of his eyes as he breathes his last breath.
Everything he said and did that celebrated the fact that he was out of those gray and featureless suburbs comes back to haunt him.
She urges him to go next door and say hello to the enfeebled neighbors of his lifetime. What follows is a chain of silent takes that come out of the screen with the thunder of a man’s condemnation. The thought that he will end up like them and like his mother is a force field pushing him away from the neighbors. There is humiliation mixed with fear and loathing that is too much for him to bear.
Retreating to a bar his high school nemesis Bobby, played to the hilt by Bobby Cannavale, assaults him with camaraderie. Bobby alternates between the genuine pleasure at seeing his chum, to the destructive loathing that is virulent in seeking its lethal conclusion.
Like an animal caged in his used car lot for his entire life, too afraid to escape, he wants to eat his friend alive to suck the adventure out of him. Bobby must prove, at least to himself, that his own lack of adventure and ambition was the best path all along.
As much as the filmmakers tried, they could not take the New York out of this film. The message is universal but it has to fight against the gravitation of the Big Apple that pulls everything back in. Just as the filmmakers celebrate Jimmy’s courage for leaving his hometown and making his own way in the world they may have lost the battle to make a universal statement.
Bobby Cannavale (“The Station Agent”) is great, as always. However, he overshadows Ron Eldard and that is not a good thing for this film. The screenplay is on Eldard’s side as the guy who did it his way as opposed to the teenager who played it safe at the expense of seizing the day and living life. Unfortunately, in the end, we end up hating Cannavale more than loving Eldard.
The cinematography is as real as it gets. A treat for anybody remotely from the area or for distant New York buffs who have seen the neighborhoods of Queens and New York’s eastern suburbs in other films. It is the unflinching accuracy of the photography and the dialogues that make this such a scary film. It makes us all careful of what we wish for.
Visit the movie database for more information.
Directed by: Michael Cuesta
Written by: Gerald Cuesta, Michael Cuesta
Starring: Lois Smith, David Margulies and Bobby Cannavale
MPAA: Not rated
Runtime: 95 minutes