THE MUSIC NEVER STOPPED (2011)
Starring J.K. Simmons, Lou Taylor Pucci, Cara Seymour, Julia Ormond, Tammy Blanchard, Mía Maestro, Anthony Del Negro, James Urbaniak, Peggy Gormley, Max Antisell and Scott Adsit.
Screenplay by Gwyn Lurie & Gary Marks.
Directed by Jim Kohlberg.
Distributed by Roadside Attractions. 105 minutes. Rated PG.
There is a fine line between poignancy and sappiness, a line that this well-meaning but rather heavy-handed family medical drama stumbles upon all too often.
Despite this fact, The Music Never Stopped is worth seeing for a rare opportunity to watch one of the great character actors in film play a lead role rather than his normal supporting work.
J.K. Simmons – who has loaned his talents to The Closer, Spider-Man, Juno, Up in the Air and more other great performances than you can count – does an amazing job of playing a difficult character here. He plays Henry, an emotionally cut-off, conservative, by-the-book, aging man who finally learns to open himself up to connect with his estranged grown son who has suffered brain damage due to a benign tumor.
Simmons’ performance – playing Henry in three age ranges: in his 30s and 40s in flashbacks as well as his 60s through most of the film – is quiet, strong and full of regret.
It sort of makes you wish the film completely lived up to the performance. As it is, The Music Never Stopped is well made and has some wonderful moments – and also an astounding classic rock soundtrack for such a low-budget film. Multiple songs by The Beatles, Dylan, The Dead, The Stones, Hendrix, Cream and even Bing Crosby are vital to the story. Still, you have to assume that a huge chunk of the film’s budget was spent on licensing.
The film is based upon a true-life story called “The Last Hippie” by neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks – who also wrote the somewhat similar story upon which the somewhat similar Robin Williams/Robert De Niro movie Awakenings was based.
However, The Music Never Stopped, despite some very good parts,is also a bit obvious and overly manipulative – particularly in the unnecessary death of a major character which may have even been true but feels like a heavy-handed script contrivance.
Henry’s son is Gabriel (played by Lou Taylor Pucci), who ran away from home in 1970 after a huge blowout with his dad (the argument hit on all the late 60s touchstones: music, sex, freedom and Vietnam.) Henry and his long-suffering wife Helen (Cara Seymour) do not see their son again until the late 80s when Gabriel is found destitute and catatonic.
It turns out that Gabriel has had a long-dormant brain tumor, which while benign, has still over the years of neglect erased nearly his entire memory and made him mostly unable to create new memories. As they try to communicate with their son who seems blank to most everything happening around him, a nurse notices that he starts to react positively to music.
Therefore, the family hires a specialist who has used musical therapy (played by Julia Ormond). The doctor finds that when Gabriel hears the classic rock and roll music of his teen years that Gabriel becomes responsive and communicative, though he only has memories of the years between 1966 and 1970. Therefore Henry – a staunch Tin Pan Alley guy who has always blamed rock and roll for his son’s rebellion – must learn to accept the music he has never liked in order to interact with his son at all.
This leads to Gabriel having a kind of unbelievable crush on a gorgeous cafeteria worker (Mia Maestro). Not unbelievable in the fact that he would fall for her, but in the fact that she would become so flirty with one of her patients, particularly when she knew of his condition.
Eventually, Henry decides to connect by finally taking his son to the Grateful Dead show that Gabriel missed out on the night he ran away. I guess I might dig that more if I actually liked the Grateful Dead, but oh well. (The filmmakers are putting a lot of faith in the idea that their audience will share their musical tastes.) Nonetheless, I always respect the pure, unadulterated love of music, even if it is not necessarily music that I love.
This leads to a somewhat realistic reenactment of a 1987 Dead show, with shots of Jerry and Phil and Bob all far off and slightly out of focus, but it did capture the atmosphere of tie-died white middle-class kids who couldn’t dance bopping along rhythmlessly to jam music. Interestingly, as someone who was dragged to a couple of Dead shows in my day, I was able to notice that the concert that Henry and Gabriel go to was very inaccurate in at least one way – in that it was surprisingly drug-free. You don’t have to be a Deadhead to know that was never the case.
However, despite its flaws and its manipulations, it’s hard to dislike The Music Never Stopped. It obviously has a good heart and true soul, even if it never quite reaches its true potential – much like its main characters.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 18, 2011.