Aside from big hair, the 1980s also call up a certain cloying type of national pride. Not a positive sense of America as a melting pot where people are free to chase their dreams, but a sense of superiority. Journey feels unintentionally entwined with that kind of patriotism, right down to the lyric, "just a city boy / born and raised in South Detroit." So, it's unsurprising when the band members are a bit nervous about Arnel Pineda, a Filipino singer whose YouTube covers of Journey caught the attention of Neal Schon. They fly Pineda into Los Angeles to check out his vocals in a recording studio, and, despite his nervousness in the booth, invite him to play a few gigs with them on a short American tour.
In a pleasing turn of events, Don't Stop Believin' embodies the positive qualities of America. Pineda is carried along on a whirlwind of success that gives him the opportunity to be the lead singer in his favorite band, and the audiences that talk to director Ramona S. Diaz are extremely positive (even the girl who thinks Journey ought to have an American singer). Of course, it's nothing more than a testament to Pineda's talent that he wins them over; hearing him sing songs that should be familiar to anyone who listens to rock radio is an eerie experience. Obsessive audiophiles can probably point out the differences, but the average Journey fan is likely to be floored by the vocal resemblance.
In addition to his singing, Don't Stop Believin' sits Pineda down in front of the camera, and his enthusiasm is infectious. In a series of interviews, Diaz catches his deep wellspring of charisma, which alternates between self-deprecating and "pinch-me-am-I-dreaming" incredulousness. Taking over as the frontman for a world-famous band is no small feat, and Diaz guides the viewer on a mostly straightforward path through the basic tour, and then a larger one, watching as Diaz finds his footing, both physically and emotionally. Pineda is also candid, talking openly about his struggles with alcoholism and the struggle to remain sober and faithful while living a rock star lifestyle, and Diaz also focuses on his nationality, and the way he attracts Filipino audiences to Journey's shows.
At 113 minutes, the film feels a little long. Although the short history of Journey is much appreciated and not overlong in and of itself, time spent away from Pineda is time spent away from the doc's reason to exist. Scenes playing up the drama or tension can get a little tiring by the end -- the audience for the film will likely be too enamored with Pineda for Diaz's repeated "will it all work out?" moments to pan out. On the other hand, one of the film's best and most important moments arrives in an interview with keyboard player Jonathan Cain, who points out that he was also a transplant into Journey. As he recalls the whirlwind experience of making his first million and his world changing, the power of the film's subtitle hits home: with talent, dedication, and good fortune, even a kid from Manila can be a rock star.
Note: The film has been slapped with an R-rating for a couple of f-bombs, but there is no other objectionable content in the movie. It seems ridiculous that this couldn't have been given a PG-13.
The Video and Audio
From the notes of the first Journey song, played over the opening credits, it's clear that this Dolby Digital 5.1 track has been painstakingly mixed for maximum range and vibrancy. Although sometimes, again, the nature of the source material limits how much surround activity can be gained from the songs, this is an exceptionally electrifying audio presentation that puts the viewer right in the middle of a modern Journey rock show. You'll want to applaud. Other than the burned-in subs, no other captions or subtitles are included.
As mentioned above, the film's original theatrical trailer is also included.