Review: The Music Never Stopped (Sundance)
PLOT: Henry Sawyer (J.K Simmons) is a middle-aged engineer, nearing retirement, and living a quiet life with his patient and loving wife, Helen (Cara Seymour). Out of the blue, their long-estranged son Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci) comes back into their lives, when it's discovered he suffers from a benign brain tumour that's destroyed a good chunk of his cognitive ability. Unable to form new memories, or even communicate properly, Gabriel's life appears to be more or less over until it's discovered that his strong love of music is able to stir up memories, and temporarily make him son coherent, and communicative. Now Henry, having long presumed it was Gabriel's love of sixties music and counter-culture that drove a wedge between them, must quickly become an expert in music of that generation in order to re-ignite a bond with his son.
REVIEW: Reading the plot summary, you'd think THE MUSIC NEVER STOPS would be a sure-fire sleeper hit, right? Especially due to the fact that it pairs a sweet father/son story, with two great performances from J.K Simmons, and Lou Taylor Pucci, and a killer soundtrack of sixties tunes; how could it lose?
The problem with the music never stops is not in the script or the performances, but almost solely in the execution. THE MUSIC NEVER STOPS is an indie, but I assume it had a healthy enough budget it if was able to licence music by the likes of The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and even The Beatles (all featuring the original recordings- no lame covers here). However, THE MUSIC NEVER STOPS just feels...cheap.
You know how some indie filmmakers are able to take a tiny budget and make it look like it cost ten times what it did? Well, THE MUSIC NEVER STOPS is not one of those films. Everything must have gone into the soundtrack, and the rest of the film is shot like a Lifetime movie-of-the-week, which is deadly for a film that's already melodramatic enough that it needs some kind of style to distinguish it, or at the very least keep it from being maudlin. It's director Jim Kohlberg's first film, and it shows. Perhaps the subject was just a little too ambitious for a first film, as in the hands of a more polished director, this really could have been something.
That said, I can't go ahead and give this an all-out pan. Simmons and Pucci are both to good to dismiss. Simmons plays his usual ornery old-timer with a heart of gold. I can't help but laugh every time I see Simmons play the sweet guys he plays nowadays, as a decade ago he used to give me nightmares on OZ. He's really erased Vern Schillinger from most people's memories, and he's wonderfully affecting here as the father that allowed a generation gap to destroy his relationship with his son.
As for Pucci, he has to play both Gabriel as a severely disabled adult, and as a rebellious teenager, and I think he fares better as the adult. As a teenager he's a bit whiny, and his hippie rebellion is pretty much the tamest version of sixties counter-culture you could imagine, feeling like something from the short-lived TV series AMERICAN DREAMS. Luckily, this is a tiny part of the film, and he gives maybe his best performance to date as the hospitalized Gabriel.
And then there's the soundtrack. While I wish it had been a little more creative with the tracks selected, it's excellent and features many sixties standards like Desolation Row, Mr. Tambourine Man, and of course, The Beatles' All You Need Is Love- which seems to be the default Beatles track chosen for any movie/documentary based on the sixties. Heavy use of The Grateful Dead comes into play later in the film, and I think Dead-Heads will get a kick out of how they figure so integrally into the plot toward the end.
In the end, THE MUSIC NEVER STOPPED is a good Sunday afternoon watch on Cable, but nowhere near what it could have been in more capable hands. Still, it's an agreeable time filler, and while it's way too conventional for the Sundance crowd (early word is brutal, but not bad enough to keep it from securing a distribution deal with Roadside Attractions), it's not a bad little movie, and worth seeing for Pucci and Simmons alone.