Like a six-string shredder getting his favorite Les Paul ripped off, Jimmy Testagros (Ron Eldard) is having a supremely bad day. A longtime roadie for Blue Oyster Cult, the blonde, scruffy Jimmy has just gotten word via telephone that he’s been fired. “I’m willing to cut my rate,” he pleads to the unseen messenger of this bad news.
“Roadie” is about a middle-aged, rock ‘n roll stage-hand whose amplifiers have abruptly gone silent. Suddenly, there’s no backstage dressing room to hide in. No instruments to tune. Forget “going to eleven.” Ronnie’s on one. In the words of Christopher Walken, here’s a man in precious need of “more cowbell.”
Michael Cuesta, whose “L.I.E.” also dug into the dirty, overlooked fringes of urban life, presents an immature loser who, up until this frightening crossroad, was constantly on the run from reality. In speeding limos. Within clouds of ciggie smoke. Under shades, sideburns, and black leather jacket.
Now, he’s unemployed and cornered by the cold, hard facts of where’s he’s really at. Jimmy, you see, has left a travel bag with all of his possessions in a taxi trunk. He’s stranded in his hometown and forced to live with a “slipping” mother (Lois Smith) who can’t remember what she’s harvested from the backyard garden for lunch.
She tells him he’s gained weight. She tugs at his cheeks with bony fingers. She tells him that Blue Oyster Cult worships the devil, and that he should have been a teacher.
Worse than this, Jimmy also bumps into an old rival (Bobby Cannavale) who once bullied him and called him “Testicles.” The bitter chaser to this whole dismal day? The same one-time nemesis is now hitched to Jimmy’s ex-girlfriend (Jill Hennessy). Wow. Pass me the cyanide.
“Roadie” basically spends its time observing Jimmy as he lies to friends about being a big-time tour manager. This, of course, is a complete fabrication, and over the course of the film, these assorted acquaintances catch on. In the end, everybody comes to realize that their rock ‘n roll partying days are long over, despite commendable efforts to fight off the aging process.
For me, the best thing about “Roadie” was Smith’s flawless portrayal of a cute old lady with wispy, cotton candy hair and the kind of bossy demeanor that can only come from – well, an aging mother. She tells Jimmy to call his aunt in Florida. She sends him to the store to pick up butter. She orders him to help carry laundry up the stairs. She’s the voice of practicality in Jimmy’s world of Buck Dharma solos and “science fiction poetry on a turn-table.”
Will Jimmy give up the noise, nose-candy, and egomaniacal tall tales to take care of this deserving matriarch?
“Roadie” certainly feels realistic, and I suppose it does an effective job at proving its point. For these rock ‘n roll souls, there’s no going back to the sweet, formative days of vinyl, black light posters, and reckless chemical ingestion. Life moves on. Get over it. Call it a day.
But “Roadie” left me in a supremely despondent funk. As an aging rock fanatic myself, I continue to resist the film’s grim resignation. Yeah, Blue Oyster Cult might not play arenas any more. But they’re still riding strong on the club circuit, refusing to go gently into that goodnight.
The point being, growing up doesn’t necessarily mean giving up your joy. Does Jimmy really need to sell those old Led Zeppelin records on EBay, even if his hearing isn’t what it used to be, his back gives out during air guitar, and mom needs a hand in the garden?
Truth be told, “Roadie” scares the hell out of me. It’s like “Anvil” without the uplift, a true horror movie for those fortysomething rockaholics who find themselves unwillingly trading in raging for aging.