Review: Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey
PLOT: What happens when an Seventies/Eighties rock band is looking for a new lead singer? For the hit-makers Journey once fronted by Steve Perry, the answer was found on YouTube. It was then that a young man from the Philippines was plucked from obscurity and found himself on tour with the popular retro act.
As ridiculously difficult as it may be to make it in the music business, it seems we are hearing a whole lot about overnight sensations or YouTube “celebrities.” DON’T STOP BELIEVIN’: AN EVERYMAN’S JOURNEY may be about that very same thing, yet in bringing the audience along for the ride we see a far more personal exploration of a young singer thrust into the limelight.
When we first meet Arnel Pineda he is taking a tour of a local elementary school in his home town of Manila. While getting a picture taken with one of the teachers, she asks what the name of his band is, he replies with Journey. Young or old, possibly every living soul has heard of this super group from the 70’s and 80’s. According to the film their hit song “Don’t Stop Believing” is probably being played somewhere on the radio station as you read this. However, the band’s lead singer Steve Perry left the band after he underwent a hip replacement surgery in 1997 and couldn’t tour with the band for that period of time. He and his former band mates have since gone their separate ways.
In the new documentary feature from director Ramona S. Diaz, the Perry years are referenced but mostly ignored. This is not his story. This is the story of a man from the Philippines given the chance of a lifetime to become the lead singer of one of his all-time favorite bands. The Perry-inspired vocalist was discovered after lead guitarist Neal Schon found some of his videos on YouTube. While it may seem like the making of some sort of reality television series, the match lead to a very prosperous year in 2008 with a certified platinum album entitled “Revelations” and a top grossing concert tour.
As Diaz follows Pineda as well as the rest of the band including Schon, Ross Valory, Jonathon Cain and Deen Castronovo, we get a sense that he helped reinvigorate the musicians. The concert footage presented is highly energetic and this is in part thanks to Arnel’s unfiltered energy. At one point after their first show he is actually asked to bring it down a bit because Journey is not “that kind of band” or something along those lines. As we follow the tour they seem to connect not only with each other but as well with the thousands of screaming fans singing along. This is also where DON’T STOP BELIEVIN feels the most alive. It’s all about the music.
Maybe it sounds a bit pessimistic of me, but the one thing missing from this film is the actual drama. This vocal talent is discovered and he is handpicked to join the band, go on tour and make a record! All of this is a good thing. Aside from Pineda battling a cold and a quick mention of Steve Perry leaving as well as old-school fans that have officially stopped believing in the band since Perry’s departure, there is no real “drama” to be found. Even the “sex, drugs and rock and roll” is a faded memory here as Pineda only talks about it yet clearly is dedicated to his family. Perhaps this is because the band has seen its fair share of that dark side and is ready to move on. Or it is simply a case of Diaz trying to inspire as opposed to exploit. Occasionally however, this lack of conflict slows the film down and you are left calling out for the music. Thankfully there is plenty of it.
The only down side here is that occasionally the film feels a little too in love with itself to explore any of the negative side effects. The lack of tension drags a bit as the biggest challenges presented seem a little too calculated. However you can’t really fault the filmmaker for making this a feel good flick especially since the music itself is fueled by pure Eighties enthusiasm. DON’T STOP BELIEVIN’: EVERYMAN’S JOURNEY is a fun and occasionally inspiring look at a man given the chance to live his dreams that you can sing along with.