The Music Never Stopped
Directed by Jim Kohlberg. Starring J.K. Simmons, Julia Ormond, Lou Taylor Pucci, Cara Seymour, Mia Maestro, Tammy Blanchard, Scott Adsit. (2011, PG, 105 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 1, 2011
Based on the essay “The Last Hippie” by Dr. Oliver Sacks (whose case studies also provided the source material for Awakenings), The Music Never Stopped offers up a fairly predictable medical melodrama. Following a jagged opening with scenes that flit confusingly between decades, we come to understand that the Sawyer family was riven by the American culture wars and the generation gap of the late 1960s. Mom and dad, Henry and Helen (Simmons and Seymour), haven’t seen their son Gabriel (Pucci) since he stormed out of their home in 1968 before finishing high school. Henry and Gabriel were at odds about music and politics, Henry preferring Tin Pan Alley composers and Nixonian conservatism, and Gabriel, rock & roll and the siren call of Greenwich Village. Nearly 20 years later, Henry and Helen receive a late-night call informing them that their son has been found homeless and is now hospitalized with a brain tumor. The tumor turns out to be benign, but it had grown so large that its removal also strips Gabriel of all his memories since 1970. Thus begins the story of a father and son’s reconnection through music, as music seems to be the only thing that stirs Gabriel from his blankness. Dad learns to appreciate the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan, and comes to a new understanding of his once long-lost son. Their attendance at a 1987 Grateful Dead concert (which is strangely drug-free and disconcertingly staged) is the emotional climax of the movie. Simmons is superb as he works his way through a variety of emotions, and it’s great to see this actor (currently portraying Kyra Sedgwick’s boss on The Closer) nail a leading role. Pucci is less convincing as Gabriel, and it’s odd that no character in the movie attempts to probe (through music or otherwise) the young man’s missing years since 1970. Producer turned first-time director Kohlberg is unable to wrench much life or visual flair from this medical mystery, although it will elicit some tears from those sensitive to its emotional tugs. The true wonder of this low-budget movie, however, is its acquisition of the rights to so much of the previously mentioned music. It’s almost exclusively Dylan and the Dead, but damned if you won’t be stopping for some Cherry Garcia ice cream on the way home.