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ADVANCE: The Music Never Stopped - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
ADVANCE: The Music Never Stopped
Directing: B-
Acting: B
Writing: C+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B
Music: B+
Costume design: C

There are dancers with a skill that borders on astonishing, but without the requisite amount of talent, all the skill in the world can't make them stop looking like they're just going through the motions. They hit all their marks and have all the right timing, but you can tell they're concentrating on getting it right rather than feeling it.

The Music Never Stopped bears the cinematic equivalent of this often fatal flaw. Instead of dancers, however, they are actors -- but to no less a degree are they playing to music. Because, as the title indicates, music is a key factor here.

As the opening titles indicate, it's based on a true story: Henry Sawyer (J.K. Simmons) struggles to reconnect with his estranged son Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci), who is brought back home after a two-decades absence due to a brain tumor wiping out his short-term memory. In the course of the story, we find that music was important to both father and son, but music that is divided by their generational difference. Henry once felt that the music of bands like The Grateful Dead -- Gabriel's favorite -- were a terrible influence on him, and that only his own music from the 50s was pure in both sound and message. But it slowly comes to light that it's only with the use of music that Gabriel is brought back to life and can have coherent, connective conversations.

This is all plenty fascinating stuff, especially with regard to its essence being based on truth, but for the telling of it. The Music Never Stop eventually finds its stride, such as it is, but not until perhaps halfway through the film. And although you get the sense that Simmons, as the father, truly understands what it was like to live through the era of music that gets presented here (Gabriel responds well only to music from his own formative years, mostly from the sixties and some from the early seventies), whether or not the filmmakers themselves "get it" remains debatable.

There are a lot of flashbacks here, which necessitate even more period detail than the "present" of the mid-80s. We look back into both the fifties and the sixties, but, like the aforementioned dancer with skill but not too much talent, a lot of the details may be correct on the surface, but they come across as the result of research rather than actually having been there. It doesn't help that, no matter what the location or the time period, everyone's clothes look not only freshly pressed, but like they're being worn for the first time (which they probably were, on the actors). There's a scene in Gabriel's post-tumor hospital where a fellow patient is walking along on crutches, and his jeans look so new they might as well be sparkling.

It's thanks to the music featured on the soundtrack that this film has any power at all. Indeed, if you grew up listening to this same music in your formative years, you're far more likely to enjoy the film than I did -- because it will stir the same sorts of emotions tied to a specific era that the same music does for Gabriel. It's no secret that music holds this kind of special power, bringing you back to the time when you first heard it (there's a lot of lines like this in the movie: "You know when I heard this song for the first time?"). Not even people who generally aren't into music are immune.

But the feeling that The Music Never Stopped holds a special power is a bit of an illusion, because it's the music, hand-selected for the soundtrack, that's doing the work -- not the film itself. Close scrutiny of the script, the dialogue, and the production design reveals work that is marginal at best, and far too often it uses the soundtrack as a crutch.

That's not to say the acting is bad -- it's not spectacular, but neither is it particularly misguided. Simmons embodies his role competently, and Pucci rises above a lot of truly uninspired lines with clear effort. On the other hand, Lou Taylor Pucci, as Gabriel, has the unenviable task of portraying a young man ranging from the ages of around 17 through to his mid-30s. The actor himself is 25, and he's fairly convincing as a teenager in a hippie wig. But the one, inexplicable effort at making him look older for his hospital scenes is the use of a terribly designed beard that looks like it was snatched from a second-hand costume shop. (It never made any sense that he should never have shaved, other than apparently to make him look older.)

Thus, how much you're apt to enjoy The Music Never Stopped depends largely on how prone you are to noticing details. Even the details that are not technically anachronistic often feel a bit off at best, and can pull you out of the story -- but then a particular song can play, and its power alone can turn on the nostalgic waterworks. There are definitely people, particularly of a certain generation, who will thoroughly enjoy this film. It seems I just stand barely outside of that group.

J.K. Simmons and Lou Taylor Pucci play emotional musical chairs in 'The Music Never Stopped'.

Overall: B-

Opens April 1 at the Harvard Exit.
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