Friday, March 18, 2011

The Music Never Stopped

What is it about music? It can inspire, deeply move and remind us of times long since past. It's that final piece which is the heart of The Music Never Stopped. We tie memories to sights, smells, and sounds. A familiar song can produce a rush of forgotten emotion tied to a specific moment from our past.

J.K. Simmons and Cara Seymour star as parents who haven't heard from their son in nearly twenty years. One day the phone rings and they find Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci) in the hospital struggling with the effects of a brain tumor which has left his mind fractured. The memories Gabriel retains are limited and inaccessable, and his illness has created an inability for him to form new permanent memories.

After doing some research Henry (Simmons) enlists the help of a therapist (Julia Ormond) and together they begin to reach Gabriel through the music of his era - the same music which created the rift between father and son years before. When a song he recognizes plays his memory returns, albeit briefly.

Based on a case study by Oliver Sacks, as adapted by Gwyn Lurie and Gary Marks, The Music Never Stopped, is more than a little schmaltzy and designed to tug at the heartstrings in all the usual ways. The film also presents few surprises. We know every note to this song long before the last chord is played.

Even with these limitations, the script does provide sequences for the actors to shine, J.K. Simmons especially. I'll also give credit to the screenwriters for not allowing Henry's character to be pigeon-holed. He's hardheaded and makes plenty of mistakes, but there are reasons for his actions (both good and bad) that help us understand his point of view in contrast to that of his son. In the end Henry isn't the bad guy, and neither is his son.

The title of the film comes from The Grateful Dead, who, along with Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and other musicians from the era are the key to unlocking Gabriel's memories (at least until the song ends). The film fits nicely into the warm family films that celebrate music and its ability to uplift the human spirit. It's not quite as strong as August Rush, but it has a similar feel and message.

You're getting no more or no less than you'd expect from a movie like The Movie Never Stopped, but I was glad to see Simmons get a chance to help carry a film rather than simply move around the edges of the main story in a supporting role. This is the type of film my mother would love, and plenty of others will as well. It's a little too by the numbers for my taste but it's still worth a look for those enjoy this type of storytelling.

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