We all have a song that brings us back to high school. Perhaps a song that we associate with a breakup or in better cases, songs that we fell in love to. Songs are sense memories, bringing us back to a time and place. In William H Macy’s directorial debut, music is the focus of healing, discovery, and forgiveness.
RUDDERLESS is a story of a father too self absorbed to notice his son. When tragedy strikes his best laid plans transform into him abandoning his 1% ways and living on a boat in solitude. Once again, his world is flipped upside down when his ex-wife hands him a box of his son’s belongings. Inside he discovers original demos and a notebook filled with lyrics. Longing for a connection, Sam begins to learn each song my ear. A fondness for the drink leads him to an open Mic night at a local bar. To connect with his son, Sam performs a song gaining a fanboy in the process. The two collaborate and form a proper band though something is still holding Sam back.
Billy Crudup, as Sam, gives a tremendously grounded and nuanced performance. Grief and guilt drive this story. Crudup is completely accessible as a man who chooses escapism through alcohol and ignorance. He easily breathes life into a character that could so lazily become cliche. Anton Yelchin, as per usual, is a pleasure to watch. His young and honest energy drive the pace of the script. He is genuine and a beautiful foil for Crudup. Felicity Huffman, in her limited time on screen, is elegant as always. She is star no matter what role she plays. Laurence Fishburne portrays a guitar shop owner with the wisdom that Sam lacks. His gentle, and oftentimes funny, hand guides Crudup in scenes that could potentially swallow him up or seem mundane on the surface.
The real winner here is William H. Macy. His vision in both direction and his hand as one of the three screenwriters using music as a means of self discovery and emotional outlet, resonates off the screen. I found myself nodding my head, tapping my feet, completely immersed in each song. Laughing and crying and connecting at every turn, I genuinely adored every single track. The hand held camera work is totally appropriate. You feel like you are in the room.
RUDDERLESS will become one of those films whose soundtrack you instantly think of as one of the greats. Along with ALMOST FAMOUS, GARDEN STATE and this year’s FRANK, you will find yourself searching the lyrics.
RUDDERLESS will stick with you like a sense memory long after you leave the theater. I highly recommend this film. You can catch it in theaters now as well as on VOD.