LITTLE ROCK Sentimental to a fault, firsttime director Jim Kohlberg’s The Music Never Stopped is an earnest and somewhat fictionalized recounting of a case history that the neurologist and author Oliver Sacks (Awakenings) wrote about in his essay “The Last Hippie,” which appeared in his 1995 book An Anthropologist on Mars.
The film is a father-and-son drama set in 1986 that features two reliable, if somewhat under-used actors, J.K. Simmons - whom you may recognize from Juno or as one of the Coen brothers’ favorites - and Lou Taylor Pucci (Thumbsucker, Rebecca Miller’s remarkable Personal Velocities from 2005).
In the late 1960s, Henry (Simmons) is an engineer obsessed with the pre-rock music of his youth who falls out with his long-haired son Gabriel (Pucci) when the boy finds his bliss in the rock music of the day - Hendrix and The Rolling Stones and especially The Grateful Dead.
Nearly 20 years zip by and the now-grown son turns up in the hospital, an enormous tumor colonizing his brain. An operation deftly removes the growth, but leaves Gabriel with a curious condition. He can no longer form short-term memories. Then he begins to lose his long-term memories as well. His default position becomes catatonia, and when he does engage the world around him, he seems stuck in the early 1970s.
But he reacts to music, his therapist Dianne (Julia Ormond) notices. It’s not the Bing Crosbyrecords of his father but the rock of his youth, which Henry still finds repellent, that Gabriel reacts to. As it becomes apparent that the music is touching something in Gabriel, Henry decides to embrace the devil rock ’n’ roll as a way to connect with his estranged son.
While none of this is as fascinating as the source material - Sack’s essay is a better read than The Music Never Stopped is a movie - the key performances are strong and the music (and it’s something of a miracle that the filmmakers were able to secure the rights for all of these songs) is enjoyable, especially in the context of Gabriel’s condition.
While the production values are strictly TV-movie quality and it’s curious that a film essentially about the healing power of music can be so tone deaf about some of the particulars, this is a movie that some Deadhead baby boomers will absolutely adore. Others should approach with caution.
The Music Never Stopped 83 Cast: J.K. Simmons, Lou Taylor Pucci, Cara Seymour, Julia Ormond Director: Jim Kohlberg Rated: PG, for drug and sexual references Running time: 105 minutes
MovieStyle, Pages 40 on 05/06/2011
Print Headline: REVIEW