Music is what feelings sound like – and on hearing a piece of music, we often recall not only when we first heard the notes but also countless moments in the past, some joyous, some painful. That’s what propels this poignant, insightful drama, based on a neurological case study “The Last Hippie” by Dr. Oliver Sacks (“Awakenings”).
The story begins in 1985 as distraught, middle-aged parents – Henry and Helen Sawyer (J.K. Simmons, Cara Seymour) – are summoned to a New York hospital when their long-lost, 36 year-old son, Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci) is admitted with a brain tumor. It’s benign and surgically removed but the part of his brain handling recent memory is irrevocably damaged. Almost-catatonic Gabriel is trapped in 1968, unaware of everything that has occurred since. Since Henry always shared his passion for big-band music with Gabriel, he engages the help of a music therapist, Dianne Daly (Julia Ormond), who discovers that Gabriel reacts – not to his father’s music – but to music from the ‘60s.
When Daly plays “All You Need Is Love” and “Mr. Tambourine Man,” a channel of communication with Gabriel suddenly opens. But he really responds to the music of The Grateful Dead, so rock ‘n’ roll-
hating Henry reluctantly becomes a 65 year-old Dead Head in order to reestablish a relationship with his son..
“All of us respond to music,” says Dr. Sacks. “Music exists in every culture, especially if it has a strong rhythmic element. It calls up memories, it calls up emotions…the fact that it happens, even in someone with amnesia, (is) startling and wonderful.”
J.K. Simmons’ engrossing performance evokes a highly combustible mixture of emotions, plus there’s fine supporting work. Writers Gwyn Lurie and Gary Marks and director Jim Kohlberg have crafted an intensely human, feel-good film and thank Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and the Dead in the final credits.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Music Never Stopped” is a sensitive, if sentimental 7, delivering a trippy, heartfelt message that echoes across the generations and decades.