Director: Michael Cuesta
Runtime: 95 minutes
I believe Rush is correct when they say that “living on a lighted stage approaches the unreal” – Roadie, a new drama from Michael Cuesta starring Ron Eldard as a recently dismissed roadie for Blue Oyster Cut (whose “Burning for You” played an essential part in Cuesta’s Twelve and Holding), is disconnected from the traditional experience of stationary adults. Eldard, a character actor frequently in supporting roles gives a strong lead performance as Jimmy Testagross. Down on his luck, unable to find a gig to keep him on the road, he comes home to a corner of Forrest Hills, Queens. He stays with his mother, played in a heartbreaking turn by Lois Smith, a women whose sight and memory are fading fast.
Touring Forrest Hills on an errand, he stops by the corner bar for a shot and a brew, where he encounters what the film’s official description calls “his longtime nemesis.” Randy Stevens, played by Bobby Cannavale, is a coke-addicted businessman married to singer-songwriter Nikki (Jill Hennessy), Jimmy’s ex-girlfriend from high school. With no children after 17 years of marriage, they still live like teenagers, drinking and doing drugs in motels – stuck in the glory days.
So, you may question – is this what Young Adult looks like without Diablo Cody’s self-referential dialogue and the pretense of Minnesota nice? Yep. After all, this is Queens, baby. Both films share this sense of a bubble that some with – shall we say – less traditional careers and callings find themselves in. Spending the majority of your nights drinking and sleeping at Days Inns off random interstates, you gain a perspective that is different then your more stationary peers. Jimmy himself is not critical of these landscapes; he lives for the moment, unlike one of Cody’s characters. As a character he is well-developed, although his perspective is limited. And while the film provides us with much of the exposition as straightforward as it can, sharing some of the tone as another film about a down on his luck 40-something, The Wrestler, it loses its momentum by plucking the low-hanging fruit.
Strong performances and good direction aside, the film’s adherence to a three-act structure (mostly in three different set-pieces, including a very long scene in a motel room) demands a resolution. It comes too easily, progression too naturally, perhaps adhering to the lead character’s lack of ambition (although I assume to be a roadie for a band, although recently let go for unknown reasons, he must have been somewhere at the right place and the right time). There is some heartbreak and reflection along the way but it develops just how you’d expect it to, even down to an ambiguous relationship ending with “take care” as much is left unspoken.
Cuesta has made more ambitious work in the past, including L.I.E., his provocative and somewhat sympathetic portrait of pedophilia, a realistic and violent portrait of middle school (Twelve and Holding) and the stylish and smart horror film Tell Tale.And though Roadie has strong performances and several touching moments, it cannot keep up its momentum, falling off the wagon, much like its characters.
Roadie is on VOD and opens in New York at Cinema Village on Friday, January 6th.
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