"THE MUSIC NEVER STOPPED," Sundance Film Festival; not rated but probably a PG-13 (language and mention of drugs)
Music is motion to the soul, and in one film at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, it became the healer of the mind.
In "The Music Never Stopped," screened Tuesday in Ogden at Peery's Egyptian Theater, music brings reality back into the life of a man whose memory was robbed by a strangling brain tumor. The film, directed by Jim Kohlberg, is based on Oliver Sacks' case study "The Last Hippie."
"Music" takes hold of the viewer within the first few scenes and does not let go until the final credits are rolling.
Sundance films are known for being created on a shoestring budget. In this case, it allowed the director to focus on the story and not the special effects that many times overpower the message in mainstream films. It was, indeed, very refreshing.
As a young boy, Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci) is the center of his father Henry Sawyers' world. To that end, Henry, played by J.K. Simmons, makes a game to help him memorize song titles, dates and artists to all of the music that he loved. Henry assumes Gabriel shares the same adoration for his music as he does. Yet, like most teenagers, when Gabriel grows up, he develops his own taste for music, all of which his father despised.
In a heated argument with his father, the teenage Gabriel leaves home without as much as a goodbye. Twenty years later, his mother, Helen, played by Cara Seymour, receives a phone call with word that her son had been found wandering on the streets of New York.
The homecoming reunion is wrought with confusion and laced with guilt, as Henry and Helen discover their son Gabriel has a brain tumor. It went undetected for several years while he was away, and, it permanently affected how he stored and retrieved old and new memories.
Gabriel moves to a care facility and spends his days rocking back and forth in a state of numbness, perfectly unaware of his surroundings. He knows nothing but his name. Henry reaches out to music therapist Dr. Dianne Daly, played by Julia Ormond, to aid his son.
What makes this film work is the character development of Gabriel, Henry, Helen and Dianne. They are patiently defined, then allowed to play out without frills and slowly simmer into the audience. Simmons is brilliant, bringing to life a man who borders on controlling but finds a way to change, just at the right moment.
Viewers who are not fans of the bands of the '60s, such as The Grateful Dead, may be by the end of the movie. It is what ultimately bonds the characters and brings the viewer into the story. Parents of teenagers will walk away with a better understanding of how to relate when on opposite ends of musical taste.
The childish, innocent and charming character of Gabriel who comes alive when the vinyl records he loves most start to crackle on the player is endearing and mesmerizing. This is a film about making a connection. The son connecting to his music. A father connecting to his son. The music connecting the love.
"The Music Never Stopped" is one of the best films of the festival — a must-see picture.