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1 review, 2 user ratings

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Music Within
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by Erik Childress

"Making The World Tolerable For Pancake Lovers"
2 stars

Grateful as you may be to not see another movie about an aspiring musician or protagonists developing their hidden talents, one that takes Oliver Wendell Holmes quote about “finding the music within” to literal heart, grateful is not the word that comes to mind watching this film unless you’re a member of the disabled community. No, this is not a forerunner to August Rush nor the long-awaited underdog tale of competitive speechifying. Honestly, the first half is such a sprawling “true story” that we sense we’re witnessing just another overeager filmmaker who got the keys to the golden camera by jotting down his less than fascinating memoirs. When actually this is the tale of the guy who apparently changed all of America’s preconceptions about the handicapable. Forgive me if I’m less than sensitive, but its near impossible to even faint praise a film for having its heart in the right place when it opens with a whimsical montage about miscarriages.

The one baby to survive this fable set to the tune of “You’re Nobody ‘til Somebody Loves You” is Richard Pimental (Ron Livingston, getting to revisit his Swingers opening tune) who narrates the first part of his life in search of a film. After winning the baby lottery and shifting between home after home thanks to his unstable mother (Rebecca DeMornay), Richard finds himself taking to a love of speech. The orator kind. Finding what he seems destined for, Richard tries out for his college team where the coach (Hector Elizondo) shoots him down despite recognizing his passion and talent. Left without a voice, Richard does the only sane thing and joins the army. Vietnam rages and a grenade in his squad’s tent leaves him with a severe case of tinnitus.

When he gets back, the government employment offices (run by Clint Howard) are less than sympathetic to his condition. “You’ll be incompetent and foul-mouthed,” he is told…by Clint Howard. Back in school, Richard meets Art (Michael Sheen), a wheelchair-bound palsy victim whom he makes quick friends with. Through Art he also meets his future girlfriend, Christine (Melissa George), whose penchant for open relationships and swinging seems perfect for a guy who frequently can’t listen to what a woman is saying. Life seems pretty good. The End. Oh wait, there’s more? Oh yeah, did you know Richard Pimental spent the rest of his life working on behalf of disabled people, finding them work and then improving conditions in the workplace - including manners? Pretty cool, huh? If only this was a movie that didn’t show the symptoms of both schizophrenia and narcolepsy.

The film is certainly trying. It’s Holmes quote may not reference actual music, but director Steven Sawalich stuffs the soundtrack with so many era-laden tunes that this may be the first film on record to actually have more songs than scenes. Screenwriters Brett McKinney, Mark Andrew Olsen & Kelly Kennemer appears to have gone through Pimental’s wikipedia page and picked out every tiny little detail that happened to him that they found interesting, but neglects to find a drawing power that settles down enough to inform us why we’re watching this. Matters aren’t helped by their pedantic hot-button writing such as how rude the uptight and upright react in the presence of the disadvantaged. It seems almost alien to us today and Pimental was clearly a major influence on that. Which is a wonder how un-compelling his story turns out to be.

Ron Livingston is as right for this role as he is wrong. His combination of everyday mannerisms and light comedic prowess has us alternately keeping Pimental’s overstuffed biography on an unspectacular keel and anticipating the moment he cracks wise on how melodramatic his surroundings are. Livingston has a line involving a dwarf and file clerking that is so brilliant (and probably had the screening room laughing for seven straight minutes) you’d swear you were watching the sequel to Office Space, especially when Leslie Nielsen appears as a hearing aid pioneer. A film of this comportment makes it straight-up insensitive to call any question to the handling of Art’s condition and Michael Sheen’s performance of it. To his credit, I didn’t even recognize this as the same actor who really impressed me as Tony Blair in last year’s The Queen, despite seeing his third billing in the opening credits. And I was less bothered at seeing another showy display of acting then I was that all his effort was wasted on a film that is supposed to be cheerleading a statement on differences and instead becoming one that is no different (and often worse) than your average Lifetime, TNT or Oxygen biopic. However whimsical, tragic, struggle-laden or interesting Pimental’s life may have been, I’m sure the audience should come away from it with more than the knowledge that it’s easier to get pancakes than it was three decades ago.

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originally posted: 10/26/07 14:00:00
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User Comments

2/28/09 Andrew This review is whack. This movie haswon 4 different awards. quit being such a hater. 5 stars
11/02/07 Silsby Just when you thought movies were becoming a cliche! 5 stars
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  26-Oct-2007 (R)
  DVD: 08-Apr-2008



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