There isn’t a simple way to describe or discuss Rudderless. It is quiet, disturbing, and heart-warming; a very complex, little film wonderfully directed and acted with great and necessary music. Unlike Whiplash, where music is a driving obsession, music in Rudderless is an actual character; a voice and story all its own. Having seen it once, you’ll want to/need to see it all again. It isn’t a great mystery to be solved. There is just so much going on and so many layers, it will take more than a single time through to focus on all of them.
Given that the script was written by first-time writers (Twenter and Robinson) paired with only the slightly more practiced Macy, it is an impressive result. It was also Macy’s first time directing a feature film, though his years as an actor served him well. There are one or two critical moments that didn’t quite work for me… these only stood out because the rest of the presentation was so flawless.
Macy’s first triumph was his cast, which is more than half the battle when creating a film or play. Crudup (Stage Beauty, Watchmen), particularly, stands out as a complicated and shattered man finding his way back to joining the world. Yelchin (Only Lovers Left Alive) takes a good swipe at a young man, lost and damaged, but still seeking opportunity and excuse. Even Fishburne (The Signal) makes a solid impact with just a few scenes. My only gripes were Gomez (Hotel Transylvania) and Spruyt, whose performances were less than seamless for me. But no character is mono-dimensional in this story. They each create a world and set of relationships that go well beyond the frame.
Macy’s second real triumph was the score and songs by Pettus and Steadman. Performed by Crudup and Yelchin they are a a toe-tapping, pop-ish story and look inside the mind and heart of the “writer” in the film. What they created feels real and right, and yet manages to be entertaining without being overly obvious. Basically, they’re good songs that you can deconstruct if you wish to or not. I submit that you won’t be able to stop yourself from examining them.
Rudderless isn’t the story I thought it was, or was going to be, on any level. It is both easy and affecting. It will stick with you and quietly demand you think. It is beautifully put together with only minor blemishes and certainly an indication of what Macy is capable of outside of his acting roles. The film deserves the praise it raised on the festival circuit and it definitely deserves your time to view it.