Based on a published case history by bestselling author Oliver Sacks, “The Music Never Stopped” is a father-son drama that wraps a gripping neurological oddity in comfortably familiar movie sentimentality.
Reconnected with their estranged son, Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci), who’s slowly recovering from brain tumor surgery, square-ish sixtysomething parents Henry (J.K. Simmons) and Helen (Cara Seymour) discover that Gabe’s ability to create new memories is shot. Gabe’s rebellious, hippie-ish teen years in the ‘60s, however — the film takes place in 1986 — are instantly triggered when a music therapist (Julia Ormond) plays the records he loved: the Beatles, Dylan, Cream and his favorite, the Grateful Dead.
This memory breakthrough, though — Gabe’s catatonia falling away as the tunes hit his ears — is an emotionally complicated one for classic American songbook-loving (and rock-hating) Henry, who’d prefer the generation-gap issues that tore them apart not resurface.
With director Jim Kohlberg and screenwriters Gwyn Lurie and Gary Marks so focused on repairing Henry and Gabe at the expense of other characters (like Seymour’s sturdy, affable mom), they unfortunately let a TV-movie mediocrity seep in (especially in the awkward flashbacks to Vietnam-era dad/son flare-ups).
But in key spots, thanks to Simmons’ brilliantly wounded gruffness and Pucci’s nimble toggling act between vacancy and awakened spirit, “The Music Never Stopped” achieves an admirable poignancy about our emotional, healing relationship to the songs we love.
“The Music Never Stopped.” MPAA rating: PG for thematic elements, some mild drug references, language and smoking. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. Playing in limited release.