The Music Never Stopped (Sundance 2011)
As much as I would have loved to be in Utah enjoying the Sundance Film Festival and giving you a sneak peak at what Fox Searchlight, Focus Features and the like will be bringing to arthouses later this year, I’ve also got bills to pay. But that’s why I jumped at the chance to see a little gem called The Music Never Stopped as part of the Sundance USA program when it played in Chicago the same week it premiered at Sundance.
Directed by first-timer Jim Kohlberg from a screenplay that has been collecting dust at Sony Pictures for the better part of two decades, The Music Never Stopped is a testament to the power of music and shows that the best memories don’t reside in your mind — they reside in your heart.
The film opens in 1987 with J.K. Simmons (Juno) and Cara Seymour (An Education) receiving a phone call that immediately grounds them in a state of shock. Their son (Lou Taylor Pucci, Thumbsucker), who they haven’t seen in 20 years, has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. The removal of said tumor results in a state of amnesia that prevents him from forming new memories, but the parents soon learn through the help of a music therapist played by Julia Ormond (Legends of the Fall) that his spirit comes alive upon hearing his favorite songs.
A lot of things had to go right for the film to succeed. After prying the script, which was based on an essay by Oliver Sacks (who also provided the source material for Awakenings), from Sony’s grasp, Kohlberg managed to secure an excellent cast. But the film is perhaps most reliant on the music. It simply would not have worked had Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead and The Beatles (just to name a few) denied Kohlberg’s request to use their music. The fact that he secured these songs saved the film from feeling like small-scale made-for-TV schmaltz. The film has many touching moments, but they never feel forced.
The father’s disdain for his son’s music failed to register with me. Perhaps the subject matter clashed with his conservative ideals, but he wouldn’t have known that unless he thoroughly studied the lyrics. They otherwise make for some pretty easy listening. I mean, I grew up listening to Slayer and Megadeth. The Beatles hardly seem threatening by comparison.
I suppose everything is relative to a given time period and the difference in opinion simply represented a generational gap, which is always going to exist. I was just lucky enough to have parents that allowed me to attend metal shows on a school night as long as my grades didn’t suffer.
Pucci’s multi-faceted performance is impressive, but the arc of Simmons’s character is the real heart of the film. He manages to bond with his son through the music of his son’s choosing, something not many parents care to do. The film’s flashbacks are patiently paced and give us insight on what caused their relationship to fall apart in the first place. The years they lost will never be replaced, but the father’s willingness to change can mend these 20-year-old scars.
The film was picked up for distribution by Roadside Attractions prior to the festival, so look for it in theaters this March.