Movie Review: The Music Never Stopped (2011)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Congratulations to J.K. Simmons on winning his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Whiplash at last night's Academy Awards. I had never even heard of the movie until his nomination nor seen the trailer until recently, but I have requested the title from my local library. I have, however, seen Simmons on the screen quite a bit--most people recognize him as the spokesman for the Farmers Insurance commercials--but he's also had roles in Spider-Man, The Closer, and several TV series. 

In 2011, Simmons also starred in a wonderful but overlooked indie film that I've been meaning to review here on Go Retro for a while, called The Music Never Stopped. Last night's Oscar win was finally the kick in the rear that I needed to crow about it. And in case you're wondering, yes, the movie does indeed have a retro theme to it. 

This is a beautiful film about the multi-faceted power of music; not just how it can improve one's psychological state but how it can bond people together. 

Loosely based on an essay written by the acclaimed neurologist Oliver Sacks, The Music Never Stopped is about a young man named Gabriel Sawyer (Lou Taylor Pucci) who is found on the streets in 1986, several years after he went missing. It's discovered that Gabriel has a brain tumor, and his memory is nonexistent beyond anything that took place in the late '60s. Furthermore, he's in a constant stupor and unable to communicate with anybody. 

Simmons plays Gabriel's heartbroken father, Henry, who used to bond with his son over music--albeit the performers from the '40s and '50s, before the British Invasion and the '60s infiltrated the radio waves. 

Henry hires a music therapist (played by Julia Ormond) to see if she can get through to Gabriel. At first, none of the classical pieces she plays have any reaction--until she picks the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise." Gabriel perks up and smiles, but once the song's intro disappears into the rest of the composition, so does his smile and he once again becomes withdrawn. 

This confounds the therapist until she hears the Beatles' "All You Need is Love" on the radio and realizes that Gabriel was probably expecting to hear that song instead when he heard the classical intro. She plays the Beatles' record for him during the next session, and her suspicion is correct. 

Suddenly Gabriel is alive, communicative, and the words come spilling out of him as he's exposed to his musical heroes of the '60s including Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead. 

Through flashbacks we get some hints at what eventually drove Gabriel away from his home and his parents--he was a bit of a rebellious hippie who eventually came to blows with his father and decided to split. 

With Gabriel's reemergence and his response to the music of his teenage hood, Henry realizes that he's been given a precious second chance to reconnect with his son, through singers and bands that a man of his generation doesn't really comprehend, but is open-minded enough to learn more about. 

The movie culminates with father and son making a pilgrimage to a Grateful Dead concert--a last chance for them to bond before Gabriel's tumor gets worse. Be forewarned--you're going to need a box of Kleenex handy. 

I can't believe that I hadn't heard a word about this movie until I watched it on DVD, which is usually the case with so many underrated independent films. Everyone in the movie gives a commendable performance, and it was the directorial debut for Jim Kohlberg. Well done. If you love the music of the '60s (and you must be if you're reading Go Retro) this tender movie is not to be missed. 

Here's the trailer for The Music Never Stopped.


  1. This has all the makings of a Cherdo favorite, Pam. I'm going to see if I can find it somewhere (that I have access to, specifically).

    Thanks, Pam! Go, Retro, go1

  2. Hi Cherdo! I hope you'll get to watch this wonderful movie...if I were to expand my previous post about films that have stayed with me I definitely would add this one to it. You may be able to watch it online. Thanks as usual for stopping by and for your comments.


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