B+ Music Documentary
- Directed by Ramona S. Diaz
Note: I wrote this review after seeing this documentary at last year’s San Francisco International Film Festival, with the intention of posting it just before the theatrical release. Then I filed it away and forgot about it. When the movie opened last month at the New Parkway, I remembered the movie well enough to mention it in my weekly newsletter, but I forgot to post my review. So here is the review its complete form.
I’ve never been a fan of Journey, but this music documentary made me a fan of the band’s new lead singer, Arnel Pineda. He’s charismatic, energetic, down-to-earth, and funny. He also has a great set of pipes. (I use the word new loosely. He’s going on five years with the band.)
Filmmaker Ramona S. Diaz tells Pineda’s story, the band’s story, but mostly, the story of how he became a part of Journey. It’s about as inspiring a tale as you’re likely to find in the real world.. Band members, desperate for a new singer, found the poverty-stricken, Manila-based Pineda on YouTube, flew him out to California, worked with him for a few weeks, then took him on what became the most successful tour of Journey’s long history. At least in Diaz’s interpretation, Pineda’s wide vocal range, athletic on-stage antics, nice-guy charisma, and youthful enthusiasm brought about the band’s resurging popularity.
It also helped that he’s Filipino. The new ethnic and racial mix made the band more interesting, and made Journey even more popular in the Philippines and amongst ethnic Filipinos in the United States and elsewhere. Diaz, herself a Filipino American, introduces us to several unusually worshipful fans of Filipino heritage.
Pineda’s pre-band life in the Manila was anything but easy. His family was extremely poor, and for a period homeless. Eventually, his singing led to work in a cover band, which provided barely enough money to bring his family together and rent a small home. Still in his teens, he became his family’s main breadwinner.
Looking at him perform, or even talk to the camera in close-up, I would put Pineda in his late twenties or early thirties. But as he describes his past life to Diaz’s camera, it becomes clear that he’s been around considerably longer than that. According to Wikipedia, he was 39 when Journey called. Perhaps that’s why he doesn’t fall into the usual traps associated with sudden rock and roll fame–he was already mature enough to avoid them.
Most of Don’t Stop Believin’ follows Journey on tour. We’ve this in other rock docs, but Diaz shows us more of the work that goes into music. We see Pineda doing voice exercises, and taking strict care of his throat so that he doesn’t blow it out. The closest this film ever gets to conflict or suspense involves a head cold.
That lack of conflict makes the movie drag at times, but Pineda has such a magnetic personality, and the story is so upbeat, that Don’t Stop Believin’ s infectiousness will catch you, anyway. It’s the ultimate feel-good movie.