Today! Because I know I’m the last guy in the world you’d peg as a Deadhead –
The Music Never Stopped (2011)
Directed by Jim Kohlberg
Starring J.K. Simmons (x3), Lou Taylor Pucci, Cara Seymour, Scott Adsit, Julia Ormond, Mia Maestro, Tammy Blanchard
How do we possibly follow the biggest movie of all-time on this list? Are all my favorite films just populist studio marketed tentpoles (don’t judge me!)? Well, in 2011 the Music Box Theatre in Chicago participated in the Sundance Across America project, stemming from the film festival, where they ship an indie to different cities that otherwise might not get nationwide play. And so I caught The Music Never Stopped, a movie that went on to gross $258,223 according to Box Office Mojo, 1/2,326th the total Titanic pulled down in its initial release.
And it’s hard to say why this movie has stuck with me – it’s a pretty sentimental, sorta-true story (based loosely on brain disorder king Oliver Sacks’ essay The Last Hippie) about an estranged father and son who reunite only after both come down with severe medical issues – heart disease and brain tumor, respectively. Son Gabriel’s tumor prevents him from making new memories, but through his favorite music – lots of Grateful Dead, Beatles, Bob Dylan on the soundtrack – the fog in his brain manages to lift somewhat temporarily.
And it’s these relationships that create such a winning film. Simmons and Pucci are terrific grappling with their issues in this stilted, struggling manner, and the turns in their relationship, while a bit predictable, are still played with terrific sincerity. This could’ve melted into a treacly, preachy string of weepy speeches, but instead attempts to tackle the situation more-or-less realistically, with more success than not. Simmons is typically great, but it’s Pucci who’s revelatory – I swore after first seeing it that he would become a household name, and I’m still hoping that comes true. He was solid in the Evil Dead remake, anyway.
No awards! Sundance Across America must be the mantelpiece highlight for this one, and that’s a shame. Despite many Dead related honors that could easily be bestowed, I’m going to go with Best Non-Marseillaise Marseillaise, when the doctors realize that Gabe isn’t responding to the French national anthem – he’s hearing the opening notes of “All You Need is Love.”
Oscar winning Simmons joins the Three-Timers club with the smallest of his trio of films, after #381’s Spider-Man and #377’s I Love You, Man. Spotlight!