One of the prototypical indie-film arcs follows characters finally escaping from the oppressive confines of their hometowns. Another finds a character returning to that hometown, and making peace with it and the people who are still there. Hometowns: both traps and salvations. It’s easy to imagine Ron Eldard’s Roadie character gleefully leaving behind his own home of Forest Hills, Queens, as a kid to go on tour with Blue Öyster Cult—to load gear, not in any musical capacity—but by the time Roadie starts, he’s crawling back in defeat. Neither he nor the band is what they used to be, and he’s been canned on the eve of the Cult’s South American tour. He’s got nothing to show for his two decades of service except wear and tear, but he lies to his mother (Lois Smith) about managing, writing songs, and producing for the group.
Director Michael Cuesta, who wrote the film with his brother Gerald, demonstrated his deft touch with areas around New York in his 2001 debut, L.I.E., and Roadie portrays its Queens neighborhood in a grounded, never condescending way. It’s shown as part of the city, but also an island unto itself, from which few leave. Eldard finds his home largely unchanged, his bedroom still a shrine to the rock-’n’-roll-loving teenager he used to be. His mother sends him out to the store for butter, and on the way, he runs into his high-school girlfriend (Jill Hennessy) and a guy who used to give him a hard time back in the day (Bobby Cannavale)—the one she ended up marrying.
Aside from the entertaining specificity about its setting and its protagonist’s profession, Roadie is as disappointingly rote as its standard setup suggests. This is territory the similar Young Adult explores in much more interesting, subversive ways. Eldard isn’t willing to let his character stray too far from audience sympathy, even when he’s bellowing into his phone about being owed a gig, and his journey is one of cutesied-up arrested development, to be solved by someone finally telling him to just grow up. It’s hard to believe he really spent all that time on the road—he has the air of someone who just woke up from a 20-year nap, only to have his mom bring him his favorite tuna melt and ask whether he needs her to do his laundry.