With a bigger production budget and a bigger marketing campaign, "The Music Never Stopped" could have been a moderate hit. Instead, slapped with a tiny theatrical release, likely due to the low-budget look of the film, it finds its way on DVD, where hopefully it will find the audience it deserves. On paper, it sounds trite and pandering, in short the story of a young man suffering from amnesia reuniting with his family after 20 years until a radical medical breakthrough gives a glimmer of hope for a bright future, like "Awakenings" before it, a strong cast and earnest nature elevate to the status of a genuinely good (not great) film.
The comparison to "Awakenings" is especially apt as like that film, "The Music Never Stopped" was based on real events immortalized in an essay by Dr. Oliver Sacks. Like "Awakenings" the film merely uses the medical condition and ensuing treatment as a means to tell a story of human relationships, more specifically a rift between a father, Henry (JK Simmons) and son, Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci) that may be irrevocable due to fate itself. The heart and soul of the movie are the performances from Simmons and Pucci, who give it their all on screen, tackling material that requires anger, confusion and genuine love, often all in the same breath. Simmons' performance is effortless and in a more polished film would be an Oscar front-runner and he makes material work that often has to resort to heavy sentimentality to elicit a response from the audience. Pucci on the other hand initially seems off in the first act, with his pre-trauma flashback scenes feeling stilted, while his post-trauma scenes are heartbreaking and inspiring.
On a completely surface level, "The Music Never Stopped" is a static looking film, not giving the feel of a lived-in world, instead the majority of the money would appear to have gone to music licensing rights, giving the movie a necessary, incredible soundtrack to draw on. As the crux of Gabriel's treatment relies on music from his life inspiring an emotional recall of memory, as prescribed by therapist Dianne Daley (Julia Ormond remerging in an important, thankless role), the miracle that the producers were able to secure the music of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and most importantly The Grateful Dead as well as a dozen or more big names gives a much needed sense of reality to the story.
Where the film doesn't work as well is in the back-story leading up to Gabriel leaving home 20 years prior to the start of the film. Henry is mean to be portrayed (at the start) as a stubborn tyrant, but his complaints with Gabriel's musical choices and political views are far from unreasonable and when the rift is revealed, one might be scratching their head. Ultimately repairing the rift overshadows the catalyst, but the fact remains the whole film is set up on a shaky premise. However, the flaws and few moments of overreaching sentimentality don't diminish the raw power of the film's message and in the final act in particular, the on-screen relationship between Henry and Gabriel coupled with the power of the music make "The Music Never Stopped" a humane and moving tale.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is free from glaring technical issue and only suffers from a mildly soft color levels and at best, above average detail. Contrast levels are strong and consistent as is the period color scheme, despite it's less than eye pleasing look.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track is sadly not as immersive as one would expect from a film built around such an important musical score. Dialogue is clear, a little softer than desired, while the music itself has life, but not nearly enough. English and Spanish subtitles are included.
A feature-length commentary from director Jim Kohlberg is the primary bonus feature. The track is low-key and covers mostly the production, but does offer some development information. A pair of interviews with Simmons and Pucci give some information about how long the story had been floating around Hollywood as well as how the music gave the actors a common ground for character development.
Most interesting is an extended interview with Dr. Oliver Sacks who discusses the reality of the case that inspired the film. Last but not least, a series of deleted scenes are included, of which a few would have added a few extra boosts of emotional power to the film..
Had "The Music Never Stopped" been made 10 or 15 years ago, it would have easily been lauded as a moving, inspirational film. However, its flat approach to both storytelling and artistic design make it a tough sell to audiences wowed by more slick productions such as "The King's Speech." That doesn't diminish the quality of Simmons and Pucci's performances, nor the heartfelt story that drives the film from start to finish. Recommended.