Based on the essay “The Last Hippie” by Dr. Oliver Sacks, The Music Never Stopped offers up a fairly predictable medical melodrama. Following a jagged opening with scenes that flit confusingly between decades, we come to understand that the Sawyer family was riven by the American culture wars and the generation gap of the late 1960s. Mom and dad, Henry and Helen (J.K. Simmons and Cara Seymour), haven’t seen their son Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci) since he stormed out of their home in 1968 before finishing high school. Henry and Gabriel were at odds about music and politics, Henry preferring Tin Pan Alley composers and Nixonian conservatism, and Gabriel Rock & Roll and the siren call of Greenwich Village.
Nearly 20 years later, Henry and Helen receive a late-night call informing them that their son has been found homeless and is now hospitalized with a brain tumor.
The tumor turns out to be benign, but it had grown so large that its removal also strips Gabriel of all his memories since 1970. Thus begins the story of a father and son’s reconnection through music, as music seems to be the only thing that stirs Gabriel from his blankness.
Simmons is superb as he works his way through a variety of emotions, and it’s great to see this actor nail a leading role. Pucci is less convincing as Gabriel, and it’s odd that no character in the movie attempts to probe (through music or otherwise) the young man’s missing years since 1970. Producer-turned-first-time-director Jim Kohlberg is unable to wrench much life or visual flair from this medical mystery, although it will elicit some tears from those sensitive to its emotional tugs. Grade: C
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