Jimmy Testagross has the belly of a middle-aged slacker, and he can’t make a cup of coffee or fold laundry.
None of that matters to him. He just wants to rock, or at least lug the guitars, drum kits and organs around for those who actually do the rocking.
“Roadie,” out March 20 on Blu-ray, follows one crushing day in the life of Jimmy, and it’s as bleak as it is mesmerizing.
Ron Eldard may be best known for his small screen work, but his performance as the dumbstruck roadie is soul-crushing and oddly sweet. He’s a simple man whose life goals many might mock. Heck, he might mock them, too. But when his modest achievements are taken away he can’t even process a Plan B.
The film’s clunky opening minutes show Jimmy panicking after being fired by his long-time bosses, the ’70s rockers Blue Oyster Cult. He’s unemployed, homeless and appears broke. After trying – and failing – to beg his way back into the band’s upcoming tour he decides to go home and visit his aged mother in the Forest Hills section of Queens.
Mrs. Testagross (Lois Smith) isn’t all sunshine and smiles, but she misses her son and welcomes him into her home. Their awkward exchanges, mostly involving a complicated sandwich she used to make him as a lad, reveal volumes about both characters.
Jimmy drops by a local bar where he reunites with Randy (“Win Win’s” Bobby Cannavale), an old high school chum who loved to call him Jimmy “Testicles,” much to our roadie’s chagrin. Jimmy would rather listen to elevator music then spend any more time with Randy, but that changes when he learns Randy married Nikki, Jimmy’s one-time love from their high school days.
Nikki (Jill Hennessy) is a wannabe singer, a rugged beauty who sees something in Jimmy despite the passage of time. Maybe it’s an old flame flickering, or perhaps she thinks he can grease her way to stardom.
Director Michael Cuesta, who co-wrote the script with his brother, Gerald, knows the sights and sounds of this slice of New York City. The actors speak in credible accents, but more importantly they convey the swagger and insecurities of this roughneck part of town.
The plot encompasses little more than 24 hours of Jimmy’s life, but within that span Eldard sells the character, his aching heart and his undying love for classic rock. Hear him wax poetic about why “BOC” stands head and shoulders above its hair band peers, or why the Long Island outfit The Good Rats never got the acclaim it deserved, and witness a performance that belonged in last year’s Best Actor debates.
“Roadie” doesn’t offer breezy life lessons, nor do the characters emerge with a brighter tomorrow penciled into their daily planners. It’s too raw and realistic for any such third act. We’re left feeling like we know Jimmy, Randy and Nikki, flawed characters who embody the best and worst in all of us.
The only Blu-ray extra of note is a short HDNet tribute to the film. It’s sharply told, but we’d much rather hear Cuesta dig into the stories behind the film and its bruised characters.