Directed by Jim Kohlberg

Reviewed by marion ds dreyfus

Cast: J.K. Simmons, Julia Ormond, Cara Seymour, Lou Taylor Pucci

Of the 39 prime movie plots, one that gets hardly any coverage or ink is that between a father and his grown son. Film writers are usually men, and men seem to be about lots of things, but apparently, according to male informants, one of them is not often family. Success. Competition. Honeys. Sports. Money. Expensive toys. But rarely hanging with a kid, nurturing recuperation in an afflicted offspring. OK: Hold the objections—how many men you know do the domestic two-step with an ailing son or daughter?

This film is different. Not only does it involve a loving if often inarticulate father, but the marriage between the parents of their brain-traumatized son is a solid one, with a loving mother and wife (British actress Cara Seymour), and a devoted if slightly old-line father. The film involves the true case of a rare sidelined recovering brain-tumor patient, Gabriel Sawyer (Lou Taylor Pucci) who is ‘treated’ for his brain lesions and deficits by the determined effort of a music therapist Dianne Daley (gorgeous, gemutliche Julia Ormond), a mother (Seymour, most recently of An Education, 2009) and determined father, Henry Sawyer (J.K. Simmons, a sturdy, if usually sour, character actor seen in a wide variety of TV and film roles) as the afflicted’s conflicted no-nonsense father.

Fresh from its acclaim at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, "The Music Never Stopped" chronicles a heartwarming trajectory of a father and son adjusting to cerebral trauma and a lifetime of missed opportunities through the music that embodied the generational breakaway of the 1960s. Based on a case study by Dr. Oliver Sacks, MD (Awakenings) the film features prominent tracks from Bob Dylan, The Beatles and Grateful Dead, Donovan and The Stones.

There is speculation that hardly needs rebuttal over the casting decisions being much more modest than they would have been had the director not had to pay out vast royalties for the costly music rights; but for all the B-roll actors cast, the truth is, they are play their parts well. It’s a breather not seeing the Hoffmans or Streeps grabbing up all the oxygen in every intimate drama on the event horizon.

Brain tumors are not, generally speaking, a sexy clay for a non-docu armature. Sacks recreates a sensitive and instructive prescription for involvement from his real-life case history. It’s a story that engages us below the neuronal threshold—we plump for Gabriel to pull through, not giving ourselves much hope that anything determinative will happen; we’re by now too entrenched in the contemporary sophisticated wine of the incurable. But seeing the nearly autistic man-boy emerge into vibrancy (Gabriel is, after all, the name of the Archangel, the Holy Messenger: Jude 1:9) with the music that sets most toes to tapping has many rewards for the viewer interested in the clinical progress of this handsome, sad, lost apotheosis of loss.

After a week of catastrophe and harrowing vision, redemption can be satisfying.

Marion DS Dreyfus . . . 20©11


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