Arts Review, Movies


Rudderless featured image

William H. Macy, director
Casey Twenter & Jeff Robison, scriptwriters
Starring: Billy Crudup (Sam), Anton Yelchin (Quentin), Miles Hiezer (Josh), Felicity Huffman (Emily), Laurence Fishburne (Del), William H. Macy (owner/emcee Trill Tavern), Selena Gomez (Kate Ann Lucas)

How does a parent deal with the death of a child? Rudderless, the name of William H. Macy’s first directorial effort as well as the band that begins to rise to recognition in the film, is truly about the emotion that fills its lead character, Sam, as he deals with his personal grief. The film features a brilliant performance by Billy Crudup as Sam, a man who has lost his path after his son dies in a campus mass slaying.


It should come as no surprise that Macy, the shifty villain in Fargo and the scoundrel in the TV hit Shameless is a great director of actors. Not only is Crudup marvelous but Macy is also able to get fine performances from Anton Yelchin as Quentin, a young singer who inadvertently awakens the grieving Sam to life and Selena Gomez (yes, that Selena Gomez) as the girl that Sam’s son, Josh, has left behind. Less surprisingly, Macy’s real-life wife Felicity Huffman playing Sam’s ex and Laurence Fishburne as a music instruments shop owner are excellent; after all, they are stellar actors.

Crudup is riveting throughout the film, slipping downward from a successful ad executive to a drunken boat owner while still maintaining a certain charm and sense of humour. Once his ex-wife gives him Josh’s music tapes, with catchy, heart-rending lyrics and melodies, Sam slowly finds some meaning in his life.

After Quentin, a young singer catches Sam performing one of Josh’s songs at an open-mic session, the wheels of a plot start to go around the track. Before you know it, Quentin and Sam are leading a band called Rudderless (though one wishes they’d taken the bass player’s advice and called it the Old Man and the Three) and setting the local scene ablaze with enthusiasm. The songs, which are sung by Crudup and Yelchin accompanied by American indie rocker Ben Kweller, are lively and fun and catchy. (On the soundtrack album, Ms. Gomez sings a song, too.)

There’s a howler of a plot point that can’t be revealed without ruining this small film’s complex emotional structure. It’s fair to say that Rudderless more than merits that consideration. This is a film that premiered at Sundance, which deserves an audience beyond the hipsters in snowy Utah in January.

Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical 96.3 FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus

Tune in to hear Marc Glassman’s Art Reviews
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