The music never stops in The Music Never Stopped (**1/2), and that would be a problem if the tunes on parade were on the order of, say, Phil Collins' execrable "Sussudio" or Rebecca Black's splinter-in-the-tongue Web hit "Friday." But with a soundtrack lined with the likes of The Beatles and Bob Dylan (even Buffalo Springfield's superb "For What It's Worth" makes an appearance), there's no chance of anybody finding themselves bleeding from the ears. Bleeding from the heart, though, might be another matter.
Based on a true story (recounted in Dr. Oliver Sacks' case study "The Last Hippie"), this details the journey of two parents, Henry and Helen Sawyer (J.K. Simmons and Cara Seymour), as they try to deal with the fact that their grown son Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci), who has re-entered their lives after running away from home approximately two decades earlier, has been diagnosed with a head trauma that leaves him unable to form any new memories. As the parents attempt to communicate with their son, the conservative Henry is reminded of the conflicts that led his liberal son to split all those years ago. Progress in Gabriel's medical condition seems bleak until a therapist (Julia Ormond) realizes that music from Gabriel's youth — the classic sounds of '60s rock (especially The Grateful Dead) — can be used to trigger responses from him.
It's pleasing to see Simmons in a rare lead role — he's more known for such supporting stints as Juno's dad or Peter Parker's editor — and it's notable that director Jim Kohlberg allows the emotional material to speak for itself rather than bathe it in manipulative, audience-pushing strokes. But perhaps his approach is a tad too muted: As it stands, the film plays like a slightly above-average television movie, the type that used to be described as a "TV weepie of the week." Some will collapse in tears over this story. Others will remain stone-cold. And still others, like me, will land somewhere in the middle of these extremes.