Scraping the bottom of the streaming service barrel? Already rewatched all the favorites three times and out of ideas where to look next? We’ve got you covered. Every week (hopefully), Streaming Secrets will showcase an underseen or underrated movie that is available for free, or at least for no extra charge on one of the many streaming services that you probably already pay for.
Welcome to the inaugural edition of Streaming Secrets, the movie recommendation series that no one asked for! Every week, or bi-weekly, or whenever I have time and an idea, a post will show up with a movie I like which I feel hasn’t gotten the attention, credit, or publicity it deserves.
I’m aware of my (rather limited) audience, so these recommendations will be aimed primarily at people 30 and under — given that, we have some criteria. I’ll try to stick to movies released in 1980 and later. There are plenty of wonderful movies from the decades before that, but I don’t think there’s anything to be gained from my telling you to go watch 12 Angry Men, Once Upon a Time in the West, or The Maltese Falcon. Do I think you should watch these movies? I mean yeah, absolutely. They’re great. But if you are interested in older movies, you’ve probably been told to watch them a thousand times. In fact, if you haven’t seen them, you’re probably avoiding these movies intentionally. I’m not running a film class, and if you don’t feel like going back to watch films by Kubrick, Kurosawa, or Keaton, I won’t have much fun writing this and you won’t get much out of reading it.
As far as what qualifies as “underseen”? Well, you’ll have to tolerate a bit of subjectivity on this one. Some movies, like this week’s, will be fairly indisputable – small box office, limited cable exposure, tiny advertising budget, and minimal coverage in the press. Others might be films with major movie stars that had large releases and maybe even awards consideration, but maybe faded from mainstream consciousness (again, mainstream consciousness, not film twitter consciousness) over the following years. Is all this incredibly subjective and based largely on anecdotal evidence from my own personal experience? Sure, but nobody’s paying me to do this so I make the rules.
Lastly, the movie has to be available to watch for free somewhere. This is either on a streaming service that a significant portion of the country already pays for (I’m including HBO, Netflix, Hulu, and Prime Video here) or on a service that you can download or use for free (Peacock, Tubi, etc).
I’ll try to give a brief overview of what the movie is about, what it might remind you of, why I enjoy it, and where you can watch it without spoiling too much of the plot or movie particulars. In case you have already watched it, or in case you follow the recommendation and enjoy it, I’ll also try to identify where the similar movies I mentioned are streaming.
That seems like enough of an explanation, so without further ado, our first recommendation:
What Are We Watching
Today’s movie is Rudderless, the 2014 directorial debut of William H. Macy. Macy, whose name you might not know, but whose face you will certainly recognize from his starring role in Showtime’s Shameless, movies such as Fargo, Air Force One, Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Jurassic Park III, or one of over a hundred other roles, is one of the defining character actors of the last 40 years of cinema, and has worked with directorial greats such as Paul Thomas Anderson and the Coen Brothers.
The movie stars Billy Crudup – and ‘stars’ is the operative word. Crudup spirals, sulks, sings, and shines as Sam, a successful advertising executive whose life is shattered by the loss of his son, a college student and musician. A few years later, we find him living on a boat, barely hanging onto a job between bottles of bourbon and beer.
I should pause briefly here to emphasize what should be apparent from that last paragraph: this movie, at least in parts, will make you sad. There, you’ve been warned.
Crudup manages to ground his performance — and the movie — with a rare combination of charisma and pathos. He is equally credible as a stumbling drunk and a crowd-pleasing frontman (which, given the frequency with which those go together in real life, might not seem like much of a stretch) and commands your full attention without ever overacting. Crudup is a personal favorite, and one who always felt like he was one break away from having the leading man career of a guy like Mark Ruffalo or even Tom Cruise. The fact that his career didn’t take off after his role in Almost Famous will forever mystify me.
Upon discovering some of his son’s old recordings, Sam starts to play music again and ends up playing one of the songs at at an open mic night, where he gains a fan in Quentin (a wonderfully frenetic and awkward Anton Yelchin), an aspiring musician in need of a playing partner, among other things.
Yelchin, who you probably recognize as “that Russian guy from Star Trek,” tragically lost his life in 2016 due to a “freak accident” in which he was pinned by his own Jeep. Here, his energetic performance and the way he plays off of Crudup’s relative stoicism make him look like a star waiting to break out, and leaves you longing for a career — and a life — that never had the chance to play out.
I won’t go further into the plot details. Suffice it to say that there will be plenty of music, plenty of time spent in one of the most entertaining movie bars I’ve seen (if the Trill was in my neighborhood, I might have a drinking problem), and probably some tears as well.
This isn’t a musical, but it has the heart of one. The film has an earnest belief in the power of music as a spiritual salve, as therapy, as a force that brings people together. It doesn’t judge its characters too harshly, and there is even an argument to be made that it doesn’t judge them harshly enough. The film tackles some issues that are certainly volatile, and the combination of those themes and certain plot developments might be the reason you’ve never heard of this movie before.
What Qualifies it as Underseen?
This one’s a pretty straight forward case. Rudderless was released to a limited number of screens and made less than $600k at the box office. I’ve never heard it talked about by a critic (without intentionally seeking out a review), and I’ve never met someone who has seen the movie unless I’ve forced them to watch it. This is a major problem as I, quite obviously, enjoy discussing it.
Where Can We Watch It
It’s my first recommendation and I’m already cheating (well, kinda). Rudderless, today’s movie rec, is currently streaming via Tubi, an app I’m sure nobody reading this actually has. That’s the bad news. The good news? Tubi is 100% free and can be downloaded/accessed on your computer, Xbox, or smart tv. You have to deal with a few ads, but for the opportunity to watch movies like The Firm, Ali, Catch Me if You Can, and today’s recommendation? Totally worth it!
If you’re too lazy to spend a minute signing up for another streaming service (even a free one), then you can find Rudderless for $2.99 on Amazon. Just don’t say I didn’t try to help you.
Is This Like Anything I’ve Seen Before?
Ummm… nothing that’s a one-to-one comparison. Imagine the indie feel of Sing Street or Chef and the music discovery highs of That Thing You Do! or A Star is Born mixed with the emotional lows of Manchester by the Sea or… A Star is Born? Sure, let’s go with that. Honestly, it can be hard to square the movie’s combination of earnestness and small moments of pure joy with the harrowing nature of the subject matter. Frankly, it’s both darker at times and more optimistic as a whole than either Manchester or the Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga starring vehicle.
Any Additional Strong Points?
Any movie with this much of a focus around music needs to get the music right. That Thing You Do! (another well-known actor’s directorial debut) works because the hit single and titular track of the movie is a Beach Boys-esque earworm that you could see getting plenty of spins on 1960’s radio. If you can’t imagine people loving that song, the whole movie falls apart.
On this front, Rudderless does not disappoint. The music, most of which was written for the movie, is better than it has any business being, and the live performances feel sincere. Nothing sounds like it will find it’s way onto a Top 40 channel, but it is certainly above scrutiny as music made by aspiring indie rockers. All of this is made even more impressive by the fact that all of the music is performed in its entirety by the actors.
“Over Your Shoulder” is a particular standout and has made its way into my rotation from time to time; it’s a shame the full soundtrack isn’t available on Spotify.
The lead performances, as mentioned above, are great. But the supporting cast is capable as well. Macy makes an appearance as the owner of the Trill. His wife, Felicity Huffman, plays Crudup’s ex in the movie, and they are joined by Laurence Fishburne as the owner of a local music store. For those of you who are Selina Gomez fans, she… is also in the movie.
Macy’s directorial performance is also a strong point. There’s nothing flashy here, but he captures the energy of a live performance well. You always have a solid feel for the bar, the stage, and eventually the crowd for the more raucous shows. He clearly has a way with actors, pulling strong performances out of his leads but also turning a few non-actor indie musicians into serviceable performers.
Can I Go Watch the Movie Now?
Yes, we’re done here. Let me know what you think of the movie in the comments here or on twitter (@slapnslide). As promised, I tried to compile the current streaming homes of some of the other movies I mentioned. Enjoy:
A Star is Born – HBO
Chef – Netflix
That Thing You Do! – HBO
Manchester By the Sea – Prime Video