As the Tribeca Film Festival hits its mid-point, this year’s well-organized and diverse festival once again seems to offer more strong documentaries than narrative features.
But hope springs eternal, and a dip into festival screenings in the narrative category was rewarded with “Roadie,” an absorbing drama from director-cowriter Michael Cuesta (“L.I.E.” and “Twelve and Holding”). In the 95-minute film, the underrated Ron Eldard gives a moving performance as Jimmy, a roadie for two decades with Blue Oyster Cult.
After being fired, Jimmy heads home to visit his mother (the redoubtable Lois Smith) in Queens, New York. Over the course of a single day and night, as he reconnects with Mom and old high school friends (Bobby Cannavale and Jill Hennessey), Jimmy belatedly begins to understand that it just may be time finally to grow up and leave his vicarious rock star life behind.
What makes “Roadie” such a distinct pleasure is that it is clear on its aims and never overreaches itself. Just as Jimmy, during the movie, stays within a few square blocks of his childhood Queens home, so Cuesta keeps his characters clearly defined and limited in their ambitions and expectations. The film feels real, its characters tangible, and the plot mechanics unobtrusive. The film, which had its world premiere at the festival, is seeking a distributor.
Here’s a look at three other dramas, all featuring recognizable stars, also sampled at Tribeca:
The biggest name behind “Jesus Henry Christ” is an off-camera Julia Roberts, who served as an executive producer on this dark comic drama. The film’s writer-director is Dennis Lee, whose debut movie was “Fireflies in the Garden,” in which Roberts appeared. (The actress’ husband, Daniel Moder, was cinematographer on both films.)
“Jesus” stars Toni Collette as the single mother of a precocious young son, who tracks down his sperm donor father (Michael Sheen), an anxious college professor. The 91-minute movie aims to be an absurdist comedy, in the vein of “Running With Scissors” and “The Royal Tenenbaums,” but strains too hard for comic effect, punching jokes where merely flicking them would have served it better.
Like “Roadie,” the drama “Janie Jones” uses rock 'n' roll as a metaphor for living life as a perpetual adolescent. Ethan (Alessandro Nivola) is a journeyman singer-songwriter who’s on tour with his band when a long ago girlfriend (Elisabeth Shue) shows up to inform him that he’s the father of a 13-year old daughter (Elizabeth Breslin), whom she dumps on him.
A road movie, “Janie” shows how the reluctant dad, loathe to give up his partying ways, and wary daughter slowly build a relationship. While well acted, “Janie,” like the music Ethan plays, neither feels particularly original nor reaches out and grabs you.
“Angels Crest” is a bleak drama from director Gabrielle Dellal (“On a Clear Day”) about the aftermath in a small, Rocky Mountain town when a toddler wanders into the wintery woods and dies. The movie is stuffed to bursting with characters (the cast includes Thomas Dekker, Kate Walsh, Elizabeth McGovern, Jeremy Piven, Mira Sorvino and more), betraying its script’s origins as a novel. The townsfolk’s relationships with each other are murky -- were the child’s young father and alcoholic mother ever wed? -- and way too many plot threads are introduced and then left hanging.
“Jesus” and “Angels,” which had their world premieres at Tribeca, are seeking distributors. “Janie,” which had its U.S. premiere, will open in August theatrically and on VOD through Tribeca Film, Tribeca Enterprise’s releasing arm.