Films that revolve around and rely on music have a tricky balance. Like a character, the music has to be good enough to make us believe in it, but not so good that it becomes separated from the story. Luckily, Rudderless, actor William H. Macy’s directorial debut, gets the balance right. Macy succeeds in making sure the music in the film is complimentary. In essence, the perfect supporting actor.

Billy Crudup stars as Sam, a father shattered by the death of his college-age son. Following the death, Sam discovers his son’s music and uses it to try to reconnect and make some sort of sense of the event. Macy quickly moves us through the death and then the movie really starts. Sam descends into an alcohol-fueled darkness and then slowly reemerges through the discovered music.

Crudup appears in virtually every scene and holds the film together. He plays Sam in a way that makes us consistently question just how much pity he should be shown. Secondary characters, played by Felicity Huffman, Laurence Fishburne and Selena Gomez, come in and out of Sam’s life. But it’s Sam’s relationship with Quentin, played by Anton Yelchin, which provides the most interest.

The music in Rudderless is good enough to make you want to get the soundtrack, but the songs will be missing something. They are partners with the film and in need of each other.

When Quentin hears Sam perform the songs acoustically, the young man is captivated. He persuades Sam to form a band and to develop the songs. The band eventually gains a local following. The surrogate son/father figure dynamic unfolds and secrets from both Sam and Quentin are slowly revealed.

Rudderless is a story of building and rebuilding. Like the songs, the relationship between Sam and Quentin starts simply and then evolves into a more elaborate structure. Their connection is rooted in music but fueled by different reasons and needs.

The film deals with questions of loss, redemption, responsibility and forgiveness. Macy does a good job of giving us main characters that continue to develop and keep our interest. But he does an even better job of setting us up for an unexpected twist that ultimately forces us to reexamine everything we thought about both the story and the music.

The music in Rudderless is good enough to make you want to get the soundtrack, but the songs will be missing something. They are partners with the film and in need of each other. I suppose in the context of a film that revolves around and relies on music, this is the ultimate compliment to both the director and the musicians.

Rudderless is in theaters this Friday.