Jimmy (Ron Eldard) has been a roadie for the Blue Oyster Cult for the past twenty-six years. Now in his mid-forties, he has just been fired. Roadies can potentially make hundreds if not thousands of dollars a week, but he either wasn’t very good at his job or he spent his money recklessly. Whatever the case, he’s left penniless and with no place to stay. He will repeatedly try to contact an unseen man named Bobby over his cell phone, angrily demanding he be given another chance. In the meantime, he will return to his old neighborhood in Queens, where he will reunite with his ailing mother (Lois Smith). He will lie and tell her that he manages the BOC, that he has written several of their songs, and that in a week’s time he’ll be with them on their South American tour. He will also discover that his mother has kept his old room exactly as he left it as a teenager, the walls adorned with posters of rock idols, the shelves stocked with classic LP albums.
Roadie is a sad, reflective portrait of a desperate man clinging to his own delusions. It’s not enough that he has spent much of his adult life as a roadie; he must pass himself off as someone he never was in the naïve belief that it will make him look more important. All he’s doing is feeding into his own broken dreams of rock ‘n’ roll stardom, and in the process keeping himself hopelessly stuck in the past. And yet it’s obvious that time has long since caught up with him. He’s not a kid anymore; he can’t hop around from city to city and country to country with the same stamina he once had. He has put on some weight, and while others will freely speculate on the number of women he has slept with on the road, it’s highly unlikely he has taken part in anything like that.
Apart from his mother, Jimmy also reunites with his ex-girlfriend, Nikki (Jill Hennessy), who gets by singing in a local lounge. She’s married to Jimmy’s former nemesis, Randy (Bobby Cannavale), who even now insists on referring to Jimmy as Testicles, an intentional mispronunciation of his last name. In many ways, Nikki and Randy are just as stuck in the past as Jimmy is. They will, for example, arrange to relive their high school days with Jimmy by checking into a motel room and indulging in booze, cocaine, and rock music. But it runs deeper than that. As a teenager, Randy was essentially a bully; he now channels his hostility into subtler forms of obnoxious behavior, like making contrarian statements about the BOC. The cruel irony is that the meanest person in Jimmy’s life is the only one to see right through him.
As for Nikki, she puts up a good front, but it’s obvious that within is a person who longs for more than a weekly gig in a barroom lounge. Her love for Randy is perhaps more complicated than it need be; while she doesn’t appreciate his latent immaturity, and while she certainly doesn’t approve of his mistreatment of Jimmy, she will always make excuses for his behavior. Does she truly see past his character flaws, or is she desperately trying to put a positive spin on the man she settled for? I’m not really sure. What I do know is that her feelings for Jimmy are evident, even as early as their very first scene together. Those old feelings haven’t subsided. She will occasionally suggest to Jimmy that he introduce her to people in the music industry, or at the very least pass along her demo CD. Knowing what we know about Jimmy, you can’t help but feel sorry for her in those moments.
For a subplot that comprises the bulk of the movie, it’s a shame it had to be the most contrived and routine. Of course Jimmy would run into his old flame upon returning home. Of course she has gotten married to his enemy, who’s little more than a one-note caricature. Of course Jimmy would stir within his old flame a long-dormant desire to be something greater. Having said this, it’s handled about as well as can be expected. I certainly don’t mind the fact that it features the single best line of the film, and the reason I say it’s the best is because it’s simultaneously hilarious and depressingly telling. It has been reserved for Eldard; as Jimmy and Nikki listen to a record in his old room, he looks at her and says with a straight face, “I don’t focus on the past, Nikki. That’s a waste of time.”
The subplot involving Jimmy and his mother is far more compelling, although I must admit, I had a hard time reading the latter character. Her mind drifts very easily. In one fell swoop, she will tell Jimmy how nice it is to have him home, lament about the life he never shared with her, express disappointment that he hasn’t made more of himself, encourage him to get reacquainted with the neighbors, and offer to make him lunch before becoming distracted by her backyard garden, which she spends a lot of time in. Are the filmmakers hinting at something serious, such as the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia? It’s possible, although I can’t say for sure. Regardless, I found the relationship between mother and son fascinating. Their scenes add an extra dimension to Roadie, one that prevents it from becoming too conventional.