Written by: Gwyn Lurie & Gary Marks, Based On “The Last Hippie” by Oliver Sacks
Directed by: Jim Kohlberg
Recommended by: Brittani at Rambling Film
My husband is the youngest sibling in a large family; the oldest was born in 1951.
When the older kids came of age, in the flower child era, my mother-in-law was somewhat appalled by their musical choices — the Beatles were dubbed “a bunch of screaming idiots.” Then The Hubby came of age, and he lived for Heavy Metal Mania and The Headbangers Ball. Someone should have gone back in time and told her, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”
The Sawyers have been estranged from their only child, Gabriel, for almost 20 years. Their reunion is triggered abruptly by a phone call — the call every parent dreads — summoning them to the hospital.
It is 1986, and 35-year-old Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci) has a brain tumor which prevents him from forming new memories. In his mind, he is still a teen and it is still the 1960s. Living in a nursing home, he communicates with meaningless rote responses.
Gabriel’s father Henry (J.K. Simmons), made obsolete by burgeoning computer technology, is forced into retirement, Nevertheless he clings to his carefully circumscribed role as breadwinner, leaving the task of nurturing Gabriel to his wife Helen (Cara Seymour). Their roles shift, however, when Helen takes a job to help pay Gabriel’s medical bills.
Henry, who bonded with young Gabriel over the music of his era, researches music therapy. Enter Dr. Dianne Daley (Julia Ormond) who uses music to stimulate Gabriel’s memories, with limited results. When she discovers his love for The Beatles, and other music of that era, she realizes she’s hit the mother lode. But Henry associates ’60s Rock and Roll with his devastating break with his son soon after they fought over a Grateful Dead concert.
We see occasional flashbacks to their troubled relationship circa 1966. Henry’s determination to push his son into college, at all costs, is wholly understandable, given that young men who deferred college were being drafted into an unwinnable war in Southeast Asia. But — like many parents — he regrets his failure to maintain a connection with his child during the teen years, especially since it had such disastrous results. So Henry throws himself into his second chance to reconnect with Gabriel. And to develop an appreciation for the Grateful Dead.
This carefully observed, rather sentimental film does have a slightly formulaic vibe, but I didn’t care. I loved it, and I cried like a fool. It is deftly made and beautifully acted. J.K. Simmons can virtually do no wrong in my eyes, and predictably, he’s the one who brought me to tears. And aside from my love for the performances and storytelling — let’s face it — I would’ve watched this for the music alone.
The Music Never Stopped is a compelling story with outstanding performances across the board. I enjoyed this movie on many levels but, above all, its themes resonate with me. The older I get, the more deeply I appreciate the complex role of memory in our lives, as well as the message that it is never too late to become the parent you want to be.