Lionsgate // 2011 // 105 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // August 25th, 2011
The Summer of Love turns to a Reagan Era of Regret.
Harry Sawyer (JK Simmons, Spider-Man 2) and his wife Helen (Cara Seymour, Gangs of New York) have not heard from their son Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci, Southland Tales) since that fateful night during the tumultuous Summer of Love when the young hippie stormed out of his parent's Establishment home. Hoping to land in Greenwich Village (and then into the music scene), there has been no word from the boy -- that is, until one day in the mid '80s, when a hospital phones to inform them that they have Gabe in their care. Sadly, the man is suffering from a massive benign brain tumor that has more or less wiped out his entire memory.
Desperate to try and reconnect with his distant offspring, Harry seeks out the help of Dianne Daley (Julia Ormond, Inland Empire), a specialist who uses songs and other auditory cues to reach her patients. Turns out, Gabe responds to the music of his past -- the great bands of the '60s, such as The Beatles, Buffalo Springfield, Bob Dylan, and most specifically, The Grateful Dead. At first, the Sawyers are happy to see their son progress. But as with any therapy, Harry is unhappy with the scars it is bringing up, especially the ones dealing with his own culpability in his boy's current condition.
Considering it was made on the cheap and helmed by a director (Jim Kolhberg) not known for his...well, not very well known at all (his only claim to fame is as an executive producer), The Music Never Stopped is actually not half bad. Of course, the cliché goes that it's only half good, and that's not really the case here. Indeed, what hampers the film is what derails many "disease of the week" works. Gabe has an illness from which he will never fully recover. This means we have to experience an actor's interpretation of such a malady, and sadly, Mr. Pucci is not up to the task. When he's lost in his own insularity, he's dull as dishwater. This is not some Awakenings level of authenticity (both movies were inspired by the writings of the noted Dr. Oliver Sacks). Instead, Gabe is either turned off, or tuned in. The counterculture jargon can be jarring, and since the performance never owns it, it feels really out of place.
Luckily, Simmons, Ormond, and Seymour more than make up for a lax lead. They drive this movie, making us care what happens next and what will happen once the secrets of the past come simmering to the surface. Even better, there is actual access to the music being discussed. Instead of faux Fab Four, we actually get to hear snippets of "All You Need is Love" and when the Dead are mentioned, actually Grateful rarities are mixed in with the versions of "Truckin'" and "Uncle John's Band." The notion that we all have a soundtrack to our life (sorry for the second bout of literary truism) is played well here, allowing us to understand what Gabe gleaned from his youth, as well as what Harry has been fighting against all his life. While the ending turns manipulative, maudlin, and sickeningly sentimental, most of The Music Never Stopped is quite compelling. Even when it fails, we can more or less forgive its faults.
As for the DVD, Lionsgate does a decent job. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image has its moments, especially when the movie leaves the confines of a bedroom or a hospital ward and seeks to explore the elements outdoors. The colors pop and the overall look is polished and professional. As for the sonic situation, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix manages the classic '60s rock expertly. There are also a smattering of Tin Pan Alley and Big Band classics, and all are severed well by the audio aspects of the release. As for added content, there is an audio commentary (compelling and filled with insightful behind the scenes information), a nice EPK level interview set with the cast, a more intriguing Q&A with Dr. Sacks, and a collection of deleted scenes (none really necessary). Add in a trailer and you've got a quality collection of complements.
As with any movie in which an illness sets up the storyline, The Music Never Stopped is only as good as its sufferers. In this case, the lead is underwhelming. Luckily, the rest of the company is compelling.
Not Guilty. A decent little effort.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site