By Joy Lynn: The Music Never Stopped or what I might title, A Life of Missed Opportunities, is one of the better films of 2011 so far and the performance of J.K. Simmons (Juno & Thank You For Smoking) is worthy of an Academy nomination. This is a powerful and dramatic movie that will choke you up.
Henry Sawyer (J. K. Simmons) was close to his son Gabriel when he was a young boy; they shared a love of music. Henry and his wife Helen (Cara Seymour) have fond memories of their son. The movie begins when they receive a call from a hospital in the mid 1980’s informing them that their son, who they haven’t seen in almost 20 years, has a brain tumor. Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci) was found wandering the streets of New York. After surgery, his brain is damaged and he cannot recall or create new memories. But, he responds to songs he once loved and still loves from the late 60’s and early 70’s.
Remembering how well he responded to music in the past, Henry finds a musical therapist (Julia Ormond) to work with Gabriel. As the therapist plays classic rock music she discovers that Gabriel is a major league “Deadhead” fan of the Grateful Dead. The only problem is that Henry can’t stand rock music. Through flashbacks, we see Gabriel as a leader of a garage band, an antiwar protester, and a flag burner. His father is a veteran who finds his son’s beliefs and actions disturbing and unpatriotic.
After a heart attack, Henry begins to listen to the music his son loves. The sharing of music becomes the connection that provides closeness and healing. Bring your tissues. This movie has the power to affect both men and women alike.
TMG: I agree with Joy Lynn. J.K. Simmons is in top form doing what he does best—playing a thoughtful and caring Dad, but one who acts his age. Fathers will clash will their sons at some point. It has been happening since the beginning of time. One hopes that the rift never goes too far. In this case, it did. Gabriel runs away from the Vietnam war, away from home, away from family and off to peace, drugs and rock & roll. The movie skips most of the runaway aspects but instead centers on his coming back home. Despite Gabriel’s surgery and loss of memory, the fateful tumor gives father and son a renewed chance in life to understand each other. Music is the new common ground. The movie hangs heavily on Henry’s struggle to bring his son back regardless of his sons music or political views. However, there are strong indicators that Gabriel, even with his diminished mental capacity, realizes many of his friends who went to Vietnam never came back and had the same opportunity.
It might be well for all Dads of teen age sons to see this film, if for no other reason than to offer them some perspective. It teaches Dads, and sons alike, to focus on your relationship and your similarities and less on your differences. Strive to find common ground. We may not all sing the same tune, but we can appreciate each others music.
TMG’s father was a little bit like J.K. Simmons. He would have never kicked one of us out and told us not to come back, but it was clear who Dad was and what he stood for. My dad had four sons. One was a Captain in the Army; one a rock and roll musician; one a frustrated jock and one a bit of a court jester and free spirit who died from a sudden illness as the age of 22. The message of this film was not lost on me. It did remind me to embrace my own son’s (and daughter’s) choices in life . While we may occasionally disagree, it is better that we always keep the music going.