Sometimes the lights all shinin’ on me;
Other times I can barely see;
Lately it occurs to me
What a long strange trip it’s been.
—The Grateful Dead
It’s the little movie that could. Thirteen years after screenwriters Gary Marks and Gwyn Lurie conceived it, The Music Never Stopped was selected as the opening gala film at the Sundance Film Festival in January—and stood out as a festival favorite.
The film opens Friday at the Landmark Regent in Westwood and at the Laemmle Sunset 5 in West Hollywood. If you’re looking for a Great Escape, this is a sentimental, heartfelt film filled with honest, touching performances about how music ties our memories and relationships together—and will provide much to discuss long after it’s over.
Marks and Lurie, who were both raised in the San Fernando Valley, based their screenplay on the real-life case study “The Last Hippie” by Dr. Oliver Sacks (Awakenings). Sacks' story is about a 36-year-old man who loses his ability to make new memories due to the removal of a benign brain tumor, until it’s discovered that music from the '60s—particularly the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan—help him communicate.
Marks and Lurie explain they used the scientific inquiries suggested by the work of Sacks and others about the relationship between music and brain science to craft their screenplay about a family that discovers the ways music can erase decades of regret, even in the face of tragedy.
The Music Never Stopped, produced and directed by Jim Kohlberg, takes place in 1985, and tells the story of a young man (Lou Taylor Pucci) named Gabriel, who has been estranged from his family for 20 years, having disappeared into the counterculture movement of the '60s.
Studio City resident J.K. Simmons (Juno) plays his father, Henry, who had shared his passion for big band music with Gabriel as a small child, but when Gabriel entered his teen years, they vehemently knocked heads over rock 'n’ roll, which Henry hated, particularly the Grateful Dead. A big blow-out caused Gabriel to run away from his family.
When Henry and his wife, Helen (Cara Seymour), discover their son practically catatonic in a New York hospital, they are desperate to help him. For Gabriel, past, present and future are indistinguishable, and in his mind, he is still in 1968.
“Because of his brain trauma, Gabriel is in a sense stuck in time," Marks explains. "He is physically present for his father but not emotionally or cognitively present; cracking that makes for a really dramatic story.”
Henry discovers a music therapist (Julia Ormand) who breaks through to Gabriel through '60s music. Only then is Henry reluctantly forced to acknowledge, accept and interact with his son’s love of rock music in order to re-establish their relationship, forge new memories and help his son recover.
Lurie said that what inspired the story "was the universal idea that we all cavalierly throw away relationships that are important to us, thinking that there will always be time to get it back, and that's often not the case.
"Both Henry and Gabriel dig in so deeply, behind their principles, and in the end none of it matters if they are going to lose each other,” Lurie said.
Indeed, it’s a sentimental journey for both Henry and Gabriel as they reflect on a lifetime of missed opportunities to regain what they lost. It's simply amazing that music has the power to do just that. And no doubt, you'll walk out of the theater thinking about your own memories in relationship to the music captured in this moving film as well.
Check out the trailer here.
Here are a few dining (lunch and dinner) and nightcap suggestions for a Great Escape after the film for opening weekend right near the theaters:
Glendon Bar and Kitchen, 1071 Glendon Ave, Westwood; 310-208-2023, www.theglendonla.com. (Happy hour: 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight).
Le Pain Quotidien, 1055 Broxton Ave., Westwood; www.lepainquotidien.com.
Napa Valley Grill, 1100 Glendon Ave., Westwood; 310-824-3322, www.napavalleygrille.com.
Veggie Grille (located in the Sunset Laemmele center), 8000 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-822-7575, www.veggiegrill.com.
Bar Marmont (in the Chateau Marmont), 8221 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-650-0575, www.chateaumarmont.com.
The Griddle Cafe (located in the strip mall to the east; 8 a.m.-4 p.m.), 7916 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-874-037, www.thegriddlecafe.com.