Giving what may very well be his most satisfying and emotionally resonant performance in a long career filled with them, highly regarded character actor J.K. Simmons (the father in Juno
) combines with an extraordinary ensemble cast to turn what could have easily been a "disease of the week" flick into one of early 2011's most pleasant surprises.
The Music Never Stopped
features Simmons as a zoned out middle class husband/father who seems to have checked out of his job, his marriage and his life in the years since his son left home in a rage after yet another conflict over music, politics and all those things that make teenagers hate their parents. The son, Gabe (Lou Taylor Pucci, Thumbsucker),
shows up in an emergency room after a nearly 20 year absence and possessing one freakin' huge but benign brain tumor that has still done irreparable neurological damage.
Everything about The Music Never Stopped
screams out cliche', but first-time director Jim Kohlberg wisely keeps the focus on his leading quartet of performers and the screenplay by Gwyn Lurie and Gary Marks soars far above melodrama and histrionics and forms a richly felt, beautifully acted and poignantly constructed family drama based upon a non-fiction essay by Oliver Sacks (Awakenings).
The folks at Roadside Attractions gave us last year's unexpected indie darling Winter's Bone,
and here's hoping that magic strikes again with The Music Never Stopped,
a film that somehow manages to weave together the atmosphere of a Cameron Crowe film, the family drama of Ordinary People
or even Juno,
and more music from the late 60's and early 70's than you'd ever dream possible in one feature film that still manages to remain coherent.
At a disappointingly less than full promo screening for the film, the applause was loud and the praise was nearly universal as audience members arose from their seats wiping tears from their eyes and loudly proclaiming "What a great film!"
J.K. Simmons has long been a respected actor, frequently rising above even the most mediocre of material. Typically, Simmons is relegated to a key supporting player. Here, Simmons is afforded the opportunity to shine and Simmons makes the most of the opportunity with a restrained, yet emotionally transparent performance as a man determined to not blow his second chance to connect with his son when a music therapist (a marvelous Julia Ormond) discovers that the music of the son's young adult years, which the father largely blames for their initial separation, may be the key to helping his son.
The Music Never Stopped
would fall apart, however, without a grounded, raw performance from the actor charged with portraying Gabriel, a young man who sort of possesses the innocence of Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous
along with his free spirit. While Lou Taylor Pucci seems a tad more comfortable portraying the more free-spirited Gabriel, his ability to seemingly pull his words from the air during his scenes wrestling with his amnesia are some of the film's most heartbreaking scenes.
Cara Seymour is remarkable as the muted wife/mother for this dueling father/son duo, a woman who herself slowly begins to blossom both out of necessity and out of response to the world around her. Mia Maestro is a delight as Celia, a woman who becomes Gabriel's healing muse, while Tammy Blanchard shines in brief appearances as Gabriel's teenage girlfriend who returns for a visit over the holidays. While Blanchard's performance in the holiday scene is terrific, the scene itself feels a tad abrupt and off-balance as Gabriel seemingly begins this 50 First Dates
type pattern with the people in his life of having to say "Hello!" then "Goodbye!" then "Hello!" again.
Budgeted at a modest $4 million, The Music Never Stopped
was a fan fave at January's Sundance Film Festival where it was picked up by Roadside Attractions and now finds itself in a limited nationwide release. Fans of late 60's and early 70's music will simply be amazed at the wealth of music ranging from Grateful Dead to Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Buffalo Springfield and much, much more.
We beg and plead for studios to release quality adult dramas and, too often, when it happens they fall by the wayside so we can catch the latest special effects, action flicks or big budget garbage.
Do yourself a favor. Try something different and when The Music Never Stopped
comes to a theater near you GO SEE IT! If you're from Indy and appreciate the Heartland Film Festival this is your type of film (which begs the question "How could this NOT be a Truly Moving Picture?" This IS a Truly Moving Picture!). I'd even dare say that if you loved The King's Speech,
a film that stressed characters and dialogue and real life, then you'll appreciate this simpler, less royal but just as satisfying story about the healing power of music, the bond between father and son and the constant presence of hope.
The Music Never Stopped.
It never does.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic