Plenty of movies have songs. Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, for example. Or whatever AC/DC song that is — they all sound alike — in The Avengers. But not many movies take the time to show us characters listening to songs. There are three points in Roadie when Ron Eldard’s character listens to a song and reveals something about himself. Regret, fury, and longing, in that order, and each for a different song.
The character, Jimmy Testagross, a recently out-of-work roadie for Blue Oyster Cult, is otherwise pretty bottled up. He’s a combination of childlike vulnerability and the guarded quality of a picked-on teenager. He wears on his face the perpetual ingratiating smile of someone always waiting to discover he’s the punchline of a joke that he’ll have to laugh at to get people to like him. I’ve previously written off Eldard as a TV lightweight who works best with a CG monster or Ben Kingsley doing the heavy lifting. But there is nothing TV lightweight about what he does in Roadie, from his paunch to his pathos to the way he takes a slap or steals a glance. During one scene, he lets down his guard and explains why Blue Oyster Cult is unique, and what the music means to him. It’s like Paul Giamatti talking to Virginia Madsen about wine in Sideways: so this is what this man is all about.
Then there’s Roadie’s supporting cast. Lois Smith smolders with a combination of confusion and anger as Jimmy’s abandoned mother; Bobby Canavale shows that being a smooth clown doesn’t have to mean being funny; and the remarkable Jill Hennessy is a revelation to someone like me who thought Crossing Jordan was the name of that post nuclear apocalypse thing with Skeet Ulrich. She’s far more than the usual object of affection. And as the person singing one of the songs Jimmy listens to, she’s got a sultry set of pipes. Queens is also a character in the movie, which is no surprise given that director Michael Cuestra and writer Gerald Cuestra have been here before. Their first movie, L.I.E., was a darker look at the same area from either end of Roadie’s age range.
But don’t be fooled by Roadie’s happy-go-lucky romcom DVD cover. This is no romcom. It’s a grown-up movie about the inability to be a grown-up, like Young Adult minus the double twee of Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody.