Movie News & Reviews

‘Rudderless’ is a musical melodrama that runs aground: 1.5 stars

A grieving father (Billy Crudup) discovers a cache of music his son had written and decides to perform it.
A grieving father (Billy Crudup) discovers a cache of music his son had written and decides to perform it.

Rated R | Time: 1:45

Although “Rudderless” is being touted as the directorial debut of William H. Macy, the actor actually cut his teeth behind the camera with “Lip Service,” a 1988 television movie that he said was a case of being “in over my head.”

I wouldn’t go that far with the new film, but the director hardly distinguishes himself here. “Rudderless” is a competent, well-acted melodrama, yet in scope and ambition, it has the modest and serviceable scale of the small, not silver, screen.

For much of the movie, “Rudderless” appears to be a straightforward redemption story centering on a grieving father (Billy Crudup) who descends into alcoholism and self-pity after his college-age son (Miles Heizer) is killed in a school shooting.

Two years after the tragedy, Crudup’s Sam has lost his job as a successful advertising executive and is living on a boat while working as a house painter. Sam stumbles upon some old demo tapes recorded by his son, and his impulsive performance of one of those earnestly tortured tunes at an open mic night propels him into a regular gig with three much younger musicians, one of whom (Anton Yelchin) becomes a kind of surrogate son to Sam.

The music, most of which was written by Simon Steadman and Charlton Pettus of the band SolidState, is blandly believable folk-rock, delivered with sincerity — if not terribly high energy — by Ben Kweller and Ryan Dean. Backing up Yelchin and Crudup, the real-life indie rockers lend the film a much-needed jolt of musical legitimacy.

For Sam, Yelchin’s painfully withdrawn Quentin is a fix-up project for the older man to work on. In other words, Quentin gives Sam what the blurb-writers like to call a new lease on life.

While this makes for a pleasant little trip down the rut in the middle of the movie’s road, a third-act plot twist wrenches the narrative out of its comfortable groove. Not only is this development inadequately addressed by the script (written by Macy with Casey Twenter and Jeff Robison), but it is probably incapable of being addressed by any single script. It’s like you’re watching two movies spliced together, and the last half hour is not long enough to address the pothole-size plot hole that opens up between them.

That said, Crudup and Yelchin have a certain chemistry, which Macy, as a thespian, knows how to exploit. The fact that “Rudderless” wanders is not a failure of direction. It’s a problem with the boat, not the skipper.

(At the Tivoli.)

| Michael O’Sullivan

The Washington Post

MEET THE WRITER

Former Kansas Citian Casey Twenter, who wrote the screenplay for “Rudderless,” will introduce the screenings at 7 tonight and Saturday at the Tivoli in Westport.

“It is a musical drama in the vein of ‘Crazy Heart,’” Twenter told The Star in January, when the film was headed to the Sundance Festival. “It’s got a lot of humor in it. We were going for something very real. There’s a tragedy in the film, but like life, not everything is one tone.” We’ve saved the full interview for you on KansasCity.com/entertainment.

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