Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Opens locally Friday, April 15th, 2011
Run Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes, Rated PG
Starring: J K Simmons, Lou Taylor Pucci, Julia Ormond, Mia Maestro
Directed by Jim Kohlberg (directorial debut)
It would be easy to dismiss "The Music Never Stopped" as a melo-dramatic after-school special, a by-the-book tear-jerk story about a father and son. We all have songs that when we hear them, we are transported back to a specific time and place. But like the best of songs, there is an intangible spirit behind the words, infusing the rhythm and melody with your very soul. "The Music Never Stopped" is predictable, simple, and nothing too special, yet like a catchy little diddy, I couldn't quite get it out of my mind well after taking it in.
The Plot. J K Simmons, known to many as the dad in "Juno" (or to me, as the redneck neo-nazi from HBO's "Oz"), plays Henry, a caring father opposite Helen (Cara Seymour), his loving long-time wife. Based on a true story and taking place in the early 80s, their son Gabriel (Pucci) is diagnosed with a brain tumor, and although he survives the surgery (and that the tumor was benign), he is unable to form new memories and has lost many of his social functionality. Adding to the situation, the 35-year-old son hasn't seen his parents in years, following a huge argument with his father and choosing to live a "hippy" lifestyle.
Imagine the grief of the parents, who had worried themselves sick for years wondering the whereabouts of their son, only to finally be re-united under these circumstances. Gabriel's condition prevents them from forming any new bonds, since he won't remember them. They are left with no options in re-connecting to their son.
That is until a break-through is made by a doctor (Julia Ormond). Being a musician and heavy into the music of the 70s, Gabriel awakens when songs of that period are played. While he is taking in the music, his brain somehow is able to revert back to his former self, giving his parents a glimpse of the child they once knew. When the music stops though, he forgets and reverts back to his mentally debilitated state.
We learn through flashbacks that Gabriel's love of music started with his father, a music lover of the classic variety. When Dad learns that Gabriel is being responsive to music, he gathers his old collection of classics in hopes of awakening the version of his son that he hopes for...that innocent child that respected Dad. Dad wants Gabriel to return to a "good time," not the time where their relationship was at it's worst. Unresponsive to the older music, Henry connects to his son through his son's hippy music, being forced to learn about who his son became and not who he once was.
Acting. Simmons, a character actor throughout his career, gives undoubtedly his best performance in a touching role that often is more powerful in what is not said or shown on screen. He is a strong man, but with deep regrets over having lost his son. He always thought there would be a reunion of sorts, a chance to forgive and forget the differences between himself and his son. That opportunity being robbed from him, he hangs on to every last second that the music gives him in the moments when Gabriel "returns to normal." Lou Taylor Pucci as Gabriel, at first seems mis-cast, but his performance is also a powerful one and never becomes "hoky." Playing a character with amnesia is somewhat cliched and easy to screw up, but he turns in a believable performance.
Ties That Bond. Watching the father and son re-establish a relationship was pretty moving, even if it was done using conventional standards. "The Music Never Stopped" is nothing new, nothing we haven't seen before (although it does feature maybe the closest re-enactment of a "Grateful Dead" concert that we may ever see on film.) But it also isn't heavy-handed, even with some later plot developments that reek of melo-drama. The tone of the film is so touching and true, that I can't imagine anybody walking out of the theatre not having felt even a twinge of emotion.
Personal Touches. Having had family members (3 to be exact) that have fought with brain tumors to varying results, I felt the film captured correctly some element of what the family goes through as well as the patient. Even those who know anyone with Alzheimers, or similar afflictions, there is a lot of relatable humanity here. There is loss, and regret, even when your loved one survives a tragedy. You want more than survival for your loved one, you want a return to normalcy...and some would do anything to return to this normalcy even for a fleeting second.
"The Music Never Stopped" is far from perfect, but in this young year it is one of my favorite films...full of real emotion and worthy of seeking out.
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