By Dave Montalbano
As advertised, Rudderless looks like a film along the lines of Coal Miner’s Daughter, Walk the Line and Almost Famous. With Billy Crudup’s participation, this film feels like a spiritual sequel to Almost Famous, as if we are meeting Crudup’s character 14 years later.
Crudup portrays Sam, an advertising rep who closes a big deal. He calls his college- aged son in an effort to celebrate his success, but the phone only takes messages. While watching television at a bar, Sam sees that his son’s college has become the location of work-place violence.
A few years later, Sam has become a recluse, living alone on a sailboat and estranged from his wife, Emily (Felicity Huffman), who openly grieves for the loss of their son. Negligent from domestic responsibilities, Sam will have nothing to do with cleaning out their son’s room. One day, Emily brings their son’s stuff to Sam’s garbage bin. Ignoring it at first, Sam finds his son’s guitar and music tracks for songs that he has written.
While attending an open mic contest, Sam meets Quentin (Anton Yelchin). The two form a band and start playing the dead son’s music. Things seem redemptive until the son’s girlfriend (Selena Gomez) shows up, disgusted by Sam’s playlist. Thus Rudderless becomes a film with much more depth than advertised.
Making his directorial debut, character actor William H. Macy directs with a confident ebb and flow. The drama is real, but not over the top. The comedy is laugh out loud funny with echoes from previous movies.
Despite the sunny cinematography, there is a darkness beyond the theme of grief; Sam and Emily’s son was the shooter who killed the university students. Thus, the beautiful music takes on sinister attributes.
Rudderless is a film that makes one look beyond the obvious.