Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous” (2000) still remains a genre-defining music film, featuring memorable characters, a lucid script, and above all, free-flowing rock music. It’s hard to top a film that gets everything right. “Roadie” (2011) is a new film in the music genre that feels like a film about music, but it is not. There is only a distant relationship to music in the plot, but this relationship never evolves into anything worth remembering. Considering that a “roadie” mostly provides operational assistance to a music band, the film, in this regard, offers a character study of a person operating on the fringes of the music industry. That person in question is the protagonist, Jimmy (Ron Eldard).
Jimmy is a struggling roadie who has been working for a band called Blue Oyster Cult for almost twenty years. Jimmy’s career takes a nosedive when he finds out that the band will not renew his contract. Out of a job, Jimmy returns to his hometown to his ailing mom (Lois Smith), where he meets his school sweetheart, Nikki (Jill Hennessy), who is now married to his old foe, Randy Stevens (Bobby Cannavale).
Plot-wise, “Roadie” doesn’t offer much. Jimmy’s interaction with the supporting characters propels the film for the most part. Through these interactions, we get some insights into Jimmy’s past, his current state, and his relationship to his family members, mainly Jimmy’s mother. We learn Jimmy has been away from his hometown for a long time, and a lot has changed during that time. The discussions between Jimmy and Nikki are truly heartfelt, especially when Nikki discusses her unhappy marriage to Randy. The communication between the two people also exposes their vulnerabilities. There is, of course, pain for Nikki in continuing with Randy, but we gather she has made compromises in her marriage. She is a quiet person, but she has a tendency to say hurtful things when pushed to the extreme; this trait of hers is obvious when Randy ridicules Jimmy, after getting high on drugs. It becomes apparent that each character is living under the pretense of leading a happy and fulfilling life, whereas this is not the case.
“Roadie” does offer something memorable in the mother-son scenes, though. Jimmy’s arrival depicts the story of two human beings at different stages in their lives, which is further evident when looking at the faces of Jimmy and his mother. Their faces reveal mental exhaustion, pain and loneliness. Jimmy, for all these years on the road, is still a lonely man, with no one to go to except his mom. He is bitter about his past and still feels angry about a childhood episode, when his dream of becoming a guitarist was squashed. On the other hand, for Jimmy’s mom, solitude comes naturally in her life due to a continual absence of a close family member, like a husband or a son. Over the years, Jimmy’s mom has accepted that she will die lonely, but with Jimmy’s arrival, she beams with some hope. To keep herself busy, Jimmy’s mom spends most of her time taking care of the garden, which also serves as a metaphor on life and death in general.
Surely, the characters and their situations are plausible, but there are many problems with the film. The movie is marketed with a tagline, “Sex, Drugs, and Rock' N' Roll,” which I feel misrepresents the film’s premise right from the start. Viewers looking for a music film will be sorely disappointed, for there is no music, apart from the short glimpses of Jimmy’s jamming sessions. In addition, there are no sex scenes in the film, either. Of course, the use of drugs is forcibly inserted, only to artificially manufacture Jimmy’s persona as a would-be rock star. From a narrative perspective, the plot wanders too much, as the script is unable to inject any tempo into the story. The chitchat sessions are inconsequential, apart from a couple of interesting revelations. The only significant scene, where the three primary characters, Jimmy, Randy, and Nikki, are talking about drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, feels unnatural and downright thoughtless.
“Roadie” is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and encoded using an AVC codec. The transfer looks noticeably clear, and I suspect digital noise reduction is applied to the transfer. The detail is strong, and sharpness remains stable. The close-ups are tight, exhibiting nice details. The flesh tones are warm and realistic; colors are bold, with deep black levels. There is a trace of slight grain evident in the dark scenes. This is an acceptable transfer for a low-budget movie like this.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is front-channel driven, since the film is mostly a dialogue-driven affair. The dialogue remains crisp and clean and consistently audible. Overall, the mix is quiet, as the film doesn’t have any aggressive moments. However, we do hear a few catchy rock tunes, and in these scenes the bass is deep and the rear channels are active.
In “HDNet: A Look at Roadie,” we get an overview on the film and the story. In addition, we get a photo gallery.
Ron Eldard delivers a fine performance, and “Roadie” is watchable only because of his performance. At some level, the picture works as a portrait of an ageing roadie coming to terms with his failures and regrets. There are a few interesting moments with the characters, but the spotty character development weakens the entire viewing experience. In the end, “Roadie” is a dull and forgettable movie.