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Sundance 2011: The Music That Never Stopped

January 27, 2011

Continuing her Sundance coverage, Catina Martinez-Hadley is back with a look at a movie starring the magnificent J.K. Simmons….

written by: Gwyn Lurie & Gay Marks (based on the essay “The Last Hippie” by Oliver Sacks)
produced by: Greg Johnson, Jim Kohlberg, Peter Newman & Julie W. Noll
directed by: Jim Kohlberg
not yet rated

I was worried about this film after reading the synopsis, but I gambled anyhow, and hit movie-gold jackpot.  There are films that simply entertain you, and that’s a good thing, but then there is the other category of film, where the story weaves itself into your emotional synapses leaving a very profound impression. This is one of those films.    

I could write a dissertation on how absolutely perfect the script and acting was, but I won’t.  I will only say that while all the actors were at their absolute best, the performance delivered by J.K. Simmons was off the charts brilliant. This is a period piece, where each of the three decades covered finds the characters in a completely different emotional disposition, and the way that the actors were able to seamlessly switch gears was exceptional.

The movie is based on an essay, “The Last Hippie”, by Oliver Sacks.  It starts off in the 80’s where the father, Henry (J.K.Simmons) and mother, Helen (Cara Seymour), receive a call from a hospital, informing them that their estranged son, Gabriel (Lou Taylor Puzzi) would be going into imminent surgery for the removal of a large brain tumor. The surgery leaves Gabriel in a near catatonic state.  He remembers his name, the day he was born and random musical facts.  When spoken to, he responds with jingoism and rhyme.  

Gabriel’s father researches his son’s condition and is able to connect with a university professor, Dianne Daley (Julia Ormond, “Legends of the Fall) who has done some work with using music to stimulate memory synapses, getting the brain to functional normally. Dianne initially tries to reach Gabriel though his father’s music, with no discernible progress…it is not until she uses the music that was his passion through adolescence (lots of Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Cream and other hippie musical goodness) that Gabriel comes back to life. When the music from his era his playing, he is almost normal.

The music is cleverly used to take us back to defining moments in Gabriel’s life. Through these flashbacks we see Gabriel grow up, and more importantly, we watch the dynamics of his relationship with his father change through each phase of his young life. These sequences were so powerful to me.  As a parent, it was hard not to relate to how damned hard it is to change with your child, and know how much hardline is enough and at what point is it too much?

I don’t want to spoil the ending to this beautiful film, but watching Simmon’s character go from a defeated middle-aged man to a father on a mission to reconnect with his son, while confronting mistakes he has made as a parent, was indeed a treat.  A treat that required at least 10 minutes of regaining my composure before leaving the theater.  Take lots of tissue.

“The Music Never Stopped” also stars Mia Maestro, Tammy Blanchard, and Scott Adsit. The movie is in Sundance’s Premier Category and has been purchased by Roadside Attraction, so it should be released later this year.

 RATING: ****

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lauri permalink
    January 27, 2011 9:31 pm

    Thanks for the excellent review, Catina. I can’t wait to see this movie. J.K. Simmons is one of my favorite actors, and I look forward to seeing him in the role.

  2. JavaCat permalink
    January 27, 2011 11:21 pm

    Lauri – He was sooooo amazing. If I had an Oscar statuette, I’d give it to him myself!

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