\There is a difficulty in reviewing a movie that is supposed to be “feel-good.” If a comedy doesn’t make you laugh, it doesn’t work and people understand that. If a feel good movie doesn’t make you feel good, somehow the fault is on the viewer, not the film. So let me make this perfectly clear.
This is the film’s fault.
I do enjoy sunshine and happiness and characters learning to love. When a film is relying entirely on you liking that before it starts, then there is a problem. The film has to create those emotions in you and have you sympathize withthis situation.
Based off a true story, Henry Sawyer is a man who tries to learn more about his son under difficult circumstances. Gabriel has a severe brain tumor and can’t seem to create new memories. Henry reads about a technique where music can stir specific memories so he hires a professor to help Gabriel however possible. Through music from the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan, Gabriel’s personality begins to resurface, as does his rocky relationship with his dad.
It’s an interesting premise and J.K. Simmons is a wonderful actor, but this movie is completely flat. This should be the go-to example for how to use music in film, but instead none of the scenes connect emotionally because the characters and the script aren’t developed. The core characters never seem genuine and everyone else is either there for dry exposition or underwritten love interests.
Half of the film is flashbacks of what’s happened with Henry and Gabriel. When a film is about memory, especially flawed memories, it’s unfair to give the definitive filmed version of the event. In the film it turns out that Gabriel is the musical Forrest Gump in that every single song from this time is connected to a major point in his life. So he tries to explain his appreciation for the song and it still feels empty. Lou Taylor Pucci plays Gabriel with a bit of embarrassment and he tries to neurotically charm people with the way the Dead make you FEEL. After the third time, it just becomes tired because what he’s saying isn’t good dialog and the only thing Simmons can do is look longingly at his son pacing around the room spouting clichés..
I kept searching for anything in this film to focus on. Simmons is a great actor, but he has nothing to work with her. He’s way more effective as a dad in Juno and was able to show more range in a movie like First Snow. It’s great to see him as a lead, but it’s better to see him in a role with more depth.
The real test of the film was the moment they hinted at for the entire film. Gabe says a million times that he hasn’t been to a Grateful Dead concert. Henry spends the entire movie trying to get tickets. I’m not saying that go, but if they did that scene better feel like the greatest moment of their lives. Instead it’s flat—like the rest of the film—and characters will talk about how it was great.