PLOT: A grieving father discovers the music and lyrics which his son had recorded. In an effort to cope with the loss, he performs one of the songs on an open mic night where a young man in the audience is left in awe. Soon this new found friend convinces him to start a band using the songs that he was left with.
RUDDERLESS, the directorial debut of Academy Award nominated actor William H. Macy tackles some very weighty subject matters. A father struggling to cope with the violent death of his son - as well as the deaths of others - finds some solace in the music the young man left behind. The emotional intake is so complex that it is near impossible to absorb all that the movie attempts to uncover. Unfortunately, this music filled drama cant quite reach the heights that it strives for. Thankfully however it does feature two very impressive performances from both Billy Crudup and Anton Yelchin. As well as a nice turn from Laurence Fishburne as a music store owner.
Crudup plays Sam, a father who finds himself the center of attention in the midst of a parents worst nightmare. After his son Josh (Miles Helzer) is killed during a shocking event with unimaginable consequences, his life turns to shambles. Soon, he disappears from a successful job, lives on a boat and tries to start anew away from the aftermath. When his ex-wife Emily (Felicity Huffman) shows up with some of Joshs old belongings, Sam finds several demos that his son had recorded. In an attempt to cope with his loss, he ends up performing one of the songs at a local open mic bar where he meets a young man named Quentin (Anton Yelchin). Soon, this insistent young man convinces him to work on the music together, unbeknownst to Quentin where the songs came from.
The idea behind this story is one hell of a powerful concept. It is one that has been explored similarly in a more humorous way with WORLDS GREATEST DAD. While not nearly the same, both feature a father coping with their loss in questionable ways. Albeit the dad in RUDDERLESS has far better intentions. The circumstances regarding his sons death are in reality very traumatic. Even still the film fails to really approach the severity and the heartbreak that would surround such a tragedy. Whether this is Macy as a director or simply the script co-written by Macy with Casey Twenter and Jeff Robinson, it is hard to say. The fact that they approach such a serious subject matter in a musical drama however is admirable.
When RUDDERLESS works it is nearly every single moment with Yelchin and Crudup together. The two actors are terrific opposite each other, and there was not a single moment where I didnt buy into their friendship. As ridiculous as it may seem, these two starting a band and playing music together felt genuine. Both actors give very nice performances, and while Crudups Sam comes across as a bit of a jerk sometimes, it is more than made up for when the two play music or share a screen time together.
Sam is an intriguing character, and one that is allowed to not be so sympathetic all the time. He is a complete jerk to the yacht community where he lives, but the entire side story of him rebelling against them feels like filler. Every time he is asked to move his boat for some function, or getting in trouble for taking a leak into the water, it killed the momentum of the music and the two main characters. And as an ex-girlfriend of Josh, Selena Gomez shows up simply to cause trouble and whine about how awful Sam is. It is not a convincing performance, nor a very interesting character.
While RUDDERLESS is not a perfect film, it is one that has a lot going for it. Aside from both Crudup and Yelchin, there is some really catchy music happening. If you like guitar driven song writing, you are in for a treat. Watching the fictional band where the films title comes from is a real pleasure. It works with both leading men and the music they play, and there is a ton of that to go around. While Macys directorial debut may be flawed, it certainly gets a few things right and shows that the man knows his way well enough behind the camera he is also featured in a cameo as the bar owner. RUDDERLESS offers great music and two charismatic leads, yet the story tends to feel a little out of tune.
RUDDERLESS is now in select theaters and on demand and digital HD.