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Review: ‘Of Mind and Music,’ about a street singer with Alzheimer’s, is straightforward and plodding

A neuroscientist is drawn into the plight of an ailing street singer in “Of Mind and Music,” a quiet drama about Alzheimer’s that unfolds with a literalness signaled by its title. New Orleans locations and stirring tunes lend texture, intermittently breaking through the film’s overriding flatness.

As a performer who calls herself Una Vida, Aunjanue Ellis, aged considerably beyond her actual years, convincingly embodies the struggle against deepening dementia, the light in her eyes flashing as abruptly as it vanishes. Somewhat less persuasively but with an understated compassion, Joaquim de Almeida plays celebrated researcher Alvaro Cruz, whose scientific expertise could do nothing to relieve his late mother’s Alzheimer’s.

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Attracted by the music of Una Vida and her accompanist-caregiver (the wonderful Bill Cobbs), he recognizes the disease’s symptoms in her and is soon deeply involved in her life, over the misgivings of his often blindsided wife (Sharon Lawrence).

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Director Richie Adams and his co-writer, neuroscientist Nicolas Bazan (adapting his novel “Una Vida: A Fable of Music and the Mind”), opt for a straightforward approach, often ploddingly so. Characters state precisely what they mean and feel. A subplot involving Una Vida’s adopted daughter (Ruth Negga) never rises above cliché, while such details as the cost of assisted living don’t register a mention.

But Adams conjures flights of visual poetry in Alvaro’s guilt-haunted dreams and in the neighborhood-level views of the French Quarter and beyond. Nods to Louis Armstrong enrich the sense of place, and Cobbs inflects drab lines with life. It’s too bad that a movie so lovingly steeped in music hasn’t more rhythm and flow.

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‘Of Mind and Music’

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MPAA rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, drug references and some suggestive material

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills


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