Music can be a very powerful form of therapy. The extreme comfort and utter majesty that a certain tune evokes can serve as a much needed security blanket when the occasion calls for it. The main character in the new dramedy Rudderless knows this all too well and the film follows this man on his quest to battle his demons and make his cloudy view of life a little bit sunnier.
Sam (Billy Crudup) is a very successful advertising executive who seems to be on top of the world. That is until he learns of his son’s sudden and untimely death. This shocking piece of news throws Sam into a tailspin and he basically becomes a recluse, living on a boat and drinking copious amounts of alcohol to numb his emotional pain. Things do get a bit better when Sam discovers a box of his son’s demo tapes and lyrics. He then randomly decides to perform one of these songs at an open mic session at a local bar. The song catches the attention of young musician Quentin (Anton Yelchin), who then approaches Sam with the idea of forming a band.
Rudderless has all the makings of a predictable and clichéd bit of cinema but that’s okay because it works. Sam is your typical antagonist who struggles with his own misery only to learn new things about himself and eventually change. Sound familiar? Thankfully, Rudderless handles this formula in a slightly different way largely due to a quirky script from Casey Twenter, Jeff Robinson and renowned actor William H. Macy. The dialogue is sharp and funny and feels genuine. Macy also directed Rudderless (his directorial debut) and it definitely feels like he has done this before. The man certainly has a firm grasp behind the camera and Rudderless is solid evidence of this.
Billy Crudup is a very understated actor. His performances are usually that of an everyman of very few words. With charm, good looks and a penchant for music (Almost Famous), the actor isn’t your typical leading man. He seems to enjoy the quiet hero persona he so often portrays. Rudderless is more of the same for Crudup but this particular film might garner the actor some award nominations. His character’s tortured soul is exactly the type of work award voting committees look forward to. There are also supporting roles from Laurence Fishburne and Felicity Huffman which adds an extra layer of quality to the proceedings.
One of the film’s best aspects is the colorful and lively soundtrack. In the film, Sam and Quentin form the band “Rudderless” and along the way recruit Willie (Ben Kweller). All three actually perform the songs in the film, contributing to the realness of the picture. Clem Snide band member Eef Barzelay wrote Rudderless’ score and it definitely adds a lovely emotional layer to the film. The music in the film is like a character itself and director Macy is well aware of this fact.
Rudderless is an emotional journey, not just for Sam but for the audience watching it as well. How does one deal with tragedy? And what keeps that individual going after said tragedy? Sam is put to the test and his musical adventure takes him to places he never knew he’d end up. Rudderless may not be a perfect film but it definitely hits some powerful notes.