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Review: Review: ‘Rudderless’ a sluggishly paced melodrama

Selena Gomez as Kate and Billy Crudup as Sam in "Rudderless."
(J.R. Cooke / Samuel Goldwyn Films)

For all its noble intentions and loaded emotions, “Rudderless” proves a largely hollow, uninvolving affair. Actor William H. Macy, making his feature directing debut, never quite finds his rhythm here. The result is a sluggishly paced melodrama that inches toward its requisite catharsis.

Billy Crudup stars as Noah, a seemingly successful ad man whose college-age son, Josh (Miles Heizer), dies in what’s reported as a campus shooting. Two years later, Noah’s a boorish mess: living alone on a sailboat, painting houses and drinking to excess.

Heading for the abyss, Noah finds himself at a bar’s open-mike night singing one of several folk-rock songs penned by his late son. He’s spotted there by Quentin (Anton Yelchin), an insecure young musician who persuades Noah to form a band. Guess what? They do. And it’s called Rudderless after Noah’s boat life — but really after, well, Noah.

That Rudderless becomes an unlikely hit among the townies proves good news-bad news for Noah: It gives him purpose, yet he must hide that his son — and not he — wrote the band’s favorite songs. (Though these tunes are a bit underwhelming, the fine performing of them brings some welcome warmth and energy.)

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Noah’s conundrum is doubled by a third-act revelation that changes the face of the narrative, or at least our perception of it. But by then, this tough piece of news feels more like a left-field device than a well-constructed plot point.

Crudup is strong as the anguished Noah, but his character lacks sufficient dimension and back story. Felicity Huffman pops in and out as Noah’s ex-wife, but their former marriage is also short on context. Laurence Fishburne’s retiring music store owner feels decidedly wedged-in. Macy, who also co-wrote the film with Casey Twenter and Jeff Robison, appears in a small role.

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“Rudderless”

MPAA rating: R for language.

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Playing: Sundance Sunset, Los Angeles. Also on VOD.

calendar@latimes.com

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