The story is so remarkable you almost can't help but being skeptical that it wasn't crafted just to be the basis of a film some day -- massive international touring band loses their second main lead singer, and needs to find a guy to fill some pretty massive footsteps. Then, tooling around Youtube, one of the band members finds a guy in the Philippines who does a drop-dead imitation of their original hits. Cut to a few months later. This unknown is playing for tens of thousands, and the band is reaping tens of millions dollars, and, in short order, playing some of the largest gigs of their careers.
Sure, that's the precis, but Don't Stop Believin' - Everyman's Journey
is much more than the remarkable tale of Arnel Pineda becoming the lead singer of Journey in 2007. Sure, much of the running time is devoted to the extraordinary first few months with Pineda in the lead, but to the film's credit its scope is much larger.
At its best, the film documents quite well the history of the band as a whole, including its enormous success during the 80s with the vocals performed by Steve Perry. Perry's high tenor was one of the finest voices of that period, and a series of intricate, immaculately produced hits paved the way for tremendous success for the band. Perry's on again/off again connection with the band lasted decades, and the film doesn't shy away from some of the more uncomfortable interactions between long-time Journey-men and their former lead singer.
The film even touches upon something I thought they'd drop, the "whatever happened to" the last
guy that replaced Perry. I saw the band perform a half decade ago, with the comically named Steve Augeri making a rhyming, almost childish named connection to the more famous singer (what, "Neve Perry" was busy that year?). Augeri actually did a hell of a job filling in and hitting the seemingly impossible high notes. His own story was remarkable, going from manager of the Gap to the lead singer of a major rock band, but his story with the group was cut short when his voice gave out, and he was forced to take a hiatus to prevent him permanently loosing the ability to sing.
Enter the search for the singer, who would prove to be a guy who grew up in the underclass of Manilla, having lived on the streets singing for loose change.
The filmmakers follow Pineda back to his homeland during a break in the tour, and it remains quite humbling to see what he overcame in order to find success. There's great additions, including the young fan who would stay up all night at a local internet café, fighting slow upload speeds in order for the world to hear the voice of Pineda.
We see the rise, but also the challenges and second guessing that such newfound fame brings about. We also see the singer struggle with the sheer exertion such a grueling tour can put on a relatively untutored voice.
Even for those that aren't particularly enamored with Journey's musical output the story is such that it should prove effective for even the most cynical of music fans. Sure, the film runs on a bit long, and its varied approach causes it to lose focus at times, but it's hard not to be captivated by the sheer madness of the tale. Towards the end it the direction of the project loses focus for a bit, and you do get the sense of it dragging.
Still, it seems a bit churlish to pick on this misstep too much, especially given the alternative, where the most simplistic and obvious points of the story were exclusively hammered home for the whole running time. While it's not quite as effective as it could be (another run of editing would do wonders), I still applaud the range of interviews and the scope of the story the film presents. My favourite moment of the whole film is something that could easily have been cut in a lesser film, where Pineda has a slightly uncomfortable and awkward encounter with a guy that introduces himself as "the man that took over for Peter Cetera".
What a strange circle of people that have taken the reigns from those that first made these hits. Kudos to Don't Stop
for shedding light on one of these remarkable individuals, and applause for its ambition in scope, which makes it far more than just a commercial for some 80s band's latest nostalgia tour.
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