By Brian Lafferty
April 1, 2011 (San Diego) – The Music Never Stopped is a classic example of a good movie that could have been greater. The movie has an interesting premise but that’s all it is. It does some stuff with this premise but not as much as I wanted. I was never bored, and in the end I liked it, but I wish it could have done a lot more with the subject.
The movie, set in the mid-1980s, opens with Henry Sawyer (J.K. Simmons) being reunited with his estranged son, Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci). They haven’t seen or spoken to each other for years. During that time Gabriel developed a brain tumor that has gotten so big he can no longer create new memories. He and his wife (Cara Seymour) hire the services of music therapist Dr. Dianne Daly (Julia Ormond) to help his son communicate with him through rock music of the late 1960s.
The movie starts out feeling like it has the flu. You know how your body feels like it’s weighed down with lead? How you’re constantly tired and having a hard time moving or getting up? That describes much of the approximately first thirty to forty minutes. The movie by some miracle still managed to grab my attention and it eventually acquires energy.
The posters for The Music Never Stopped prominently point out some of the artists whose tracks are featured in the movie. Going into this film I expected to hear wall-to-wall rock music that would either give a sense of the time period or tell me how to feel. To my surprise, neither was the case.
All of the music is diegetic. In other words, whatever music you hear in this movie comes from a source within the scene, usually a radio or record player. It is a character in itself but not like one you normally hear on television or film.
Most movies and TV shows set in the past use music to enhance scenes, serve as a commentary on the events, and give a sense of the time period. Sometimes it works well, as in The Wonder Years, Dazed & Confused, and American Graffiti. Other times the music functions as a way for it to do the screenwriter’s work for him, like in Take Me Home Tonight.
It doesn’t enhance scenes like The Wonder Years, nor does it provide any emotional oomph to them. That’s not the purpose of the music here. The Music Never Stopped uses it like an Annie Sullivan or a Sean Maguire. It isn’t the songs I remember the most but the characters in the scene listening and reacting to the music. When played, the music is never loud but audible enough even when the characters speak.
If only The Music Never Stopped went a lot deeper. The screenplay introduces scenes involving flag-burning, Vietnam War protests, and conflict over the war between Gabe and his parents. The problem is it touches on them too lightly, so even though there is conflict, there isn’t as much as there should be.
Still, the movie is more than competent, never gets sentimental or cloying, and the performances are first-rate.
The Music Never Stopped is now playing at the Landmark Hillcrest.
A Roadside Attractions release. Directed by Jim Kohlberg. Written by Gwyn Lurie and Gary Marks, based on the essay “The Last Hippie” by Oliver Sacks. Cinematography by Stephen Kazmierski. Original music by Paul Cantelon. With J.K. Simmons, Lou Taylor Pucci, Cara Seymour, and Julia Ormond. Rated PG.