Directed by: William H. Macy
Written by: Jeff Robison and Casey Twenter
Starring: Billy Crudup, Felicity Huffman, Anton Yelchin, Selena Gomez, and Laurence Fishburne
This was NOT the movie I expected it to be. It’s going to be difficult to say much without spoiling the twist that made me like Rudderless so much more than I anticipated, so I will keep this brief.
After the devastating loss of his son, Sam struggles to cope with his life moving forward. Sam’s ex-wife gives him a collection of the songs that their son had written and recorded. He immerses himself in the music and eventually performs one of the songs at a local bar. A nervous, persistent young man, Quentin played by Anton Yelchin, then approaches him about collaborating on the songs; the two form a bond and eventually begin playing this very popular music for large local crowds.
Sounds sort of like an after school special, right? Grieving dad connects with his dead son by playing the music his son once wrote. Young man steps in to play with dad and dad projects his misplaced affection and grief onto the young man. Young man is insecure and learns from dad; both grow and move past their obstacles. I mean, it could be an ABC Family movie, but that is SO not how Rudderless goes.
There is a moment about half way through the film that flips you completely on your head. Everything that you know or think you’ve known from the second you hit play is in question. . It was a smart, smart move on behalf of the writers to include this twist. In a way, I think it’s there to distract from the conventionality of the plot, to avoid falling into the same pits that a flimsier film would fall into.
Without being overly saccharine, Rudderless centers around the unique importance of the relationship between a father and a son. Sam really does move through his grief by connecting to this side of his son that he was never truly in touch with. The music that they play is GREAT; I sort of expected it to be this prophetic, emotional music that would capture a unique grief that only a man in his circumstances could feel (think Oscar Isaac singing “Fare the Well” solo at the end of Inside Llewyn Davis). However, Sam and Quentin are able to produce fun, energetic music that is not devoid of musical complexity. It’s impressive and deeply enjoyable regardless of your musical tastes. I was downloading the soundtrack onto my computer before the movie was even over. There are times when the plot is so clearly propelled forward by the music alone that you have to kind of question whether this isn’t just a great excuse for Billy Crudup to be a rock star on screen again; but once the film reveals its twist and you are privy to the whole picture that doubt is erased.
Rudderless seemed nearly perfectly cast, perhaps with the exception of Selena Gomez- her part is minimal and I prefer her acting FAR over her singing, but her character is a little too annoying. This group of young musicians felt like a slice out reality- just a bunch of kids with t-shirts and jew fro’s who want to play great music. I feel like I knew each and every one of these people at some point in my life.
Final Verdict: I didn’t analyze Rudderless in quite the same way that I would look at something like Mr. Turner; I’m not searching for the technical mastery and plot devices. Rudderless is simple and fun but full of emotional complexity at the same time. It has moments of light and laughter, joy that comes through the songs performed; but Rudderless isn’t afraid to make you think twice in a film where you could have potentially not been thinking at all. It wraps up on an intelligent note worthy of its audience: its not overly sweet or dripping in sentimentality (*cough* Slumdog Millionaire *cough*), and it’s not a knife through the heart that leaves you sore and sad even after the credits finish rolling. It’s a human story where real people come to terms with reality–and play some pretty sweet songs while they’re at it.
Where can I see this? Rudderless is available at Redbox, streaming rental on Amazon, YouTube, and Vudu.