Directed By: Jim Kohlberg
Screenplay By: Gwyn Lurie, Gary Marks
Based upon the essay "The Last Hippie" by Oliver Sacks
Produced By: Greg Johnson, Jim Kohlberg, Peter Newman, Julie W. Noll
Cast: J.K. Simmons, Julia Ormond, Cara Seymour, Lou Tyler Pucci, Mía Maestro
MPAA Rating: NR
Runtime: 105 minutes
Release Date: January 27, 2011 (Sundance)
Review Date: January 29, 2011
In its second year, Sundance Film Festival U.S.A. takes Sundance films from Park City, UT, and brings them to select cities for one night. In addition, filmmakers make the trek to hold a Q&A with the audience after the screening. In Chicago, Director Jim Kohlberg brought The Music Never Stopped. The film received distribution before the Festival began from Roadside Attractions and will hit theaters in March 2011.
Today, it’s impossible not to find someone with tiny white cords coming from their ears. We’re all constantly hooked in to our music. Whether it’s through our computers while working, iPods while cleaning, or creating the perfect playlist for a gathering of friends, music moves us. And it moves us to our core. It elicits emotions and feelings we sometimes can’t put into words.
The Music Never Stops, based on a true story and Oliver Sacks’s case study, elicits those same emotions and feelings. After having a brain tumor removed, Gabriel Sawyer (Lou Tyler Pucci) returns to his parents, Henry (J.K. Simmons) and Helen (Cara Seymour), nearly twenty years after leaving them. Gabriel’s prognosis doesn’t look good as his surgery was very invasive, causing him to be in a vegetative-like state. After listening to The Beatles on a nurse’s Walkman (the film takes place in the ’80s), Gabriel seems to awake, but only when the music plays.
After learning this, Henry seeks musical therapist Dianne Daley (Julia Ormond) to work with his son. Henry brings in his record collection, Dianne plays and Gabriel tenses up and becomes extremely angry. Dianne realizes it’s not Gabriel’s music, it’s his father’s. After hitting up Gabriel’s music collection of The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and Buffalo Springfield among many others, Gabriel becomes alive and his old self, as long as that record continues to spin round. He recounts the memories associated with every song to whoever will listen.
Dianne realizes that Gabriel does have the ability to form new memories when these memories are “made” to the beat of a familiar tune. She puts Gabriel’s new memory of lunch lady Celia (Mía Maestro) to Paul Simon’s “Cecelia.” When Gabriel remembers this, it’s incredibly moving. Beats move more than just our feet and hips, they move our soul.
Stubborn Henry realizes the only way he will be able to connect with his son is to leave behind his life’s music soundtrack and adopt his son’s. Henry’s transformation from conservative father to tie-dye wearing dad is inspiring. I couldn’t have imagined a better actor to play this role. J.K. Simmons makes you laugh and cry all at the same time.
During his Q&A, director Jim Kohlberg said how amazed he was at the music community’s reception to the film and willingness to lend their songs to the film (all of the originals are in there, no covers). The soundtrack alone should make you want to see this film.
There’s more than just a touch of gray in the silver lining moment of the film. Henry and Gabriel make you feel the love throughout your core. Music truly moves us.
Hanna Soltys is a green tea drinker and film critic living in Chicago.