Thursday, May 3, 2012

SFIFF: Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

The San Francisco International Film Festival comes to an appropriate close on Thursday night with a film that has both local and international appeal.

The story told in Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey sounds like something out of a Hollywood movie: A classic rock band, looking for a new singer to join them on a tour and new album, discovers a guy with a great voice on YouTube.

They audition him, and soon this guy who grew up dirt poor on the streets of Manila in the Philippines is singing in front of thousands in sold out stadiums around the world.

And indeed, that's what happened when Neal Schon of local legend Journey was cruising for a new singer on YouTube late one night in 2007. The film follows Filipino singer Arnel Pineda, who for years was singing Journey songs in his cover band Zoo, as he journeys to America for the first time to audition, blows the band away, and embarks on their first world tour together.

Diehard fans of Journey will find plenty to like here, although the film is really a portrait of Pineda, and not the band. Sure, there is some history of the band included, from their early, afroed-hair days as a jam band, to their success with singer Steve Perry. But people hoping to get the dirt on just why Perry left the band aren't going to get an answer here.

Personally, I don't think Journey IS Journey without Perry. But I do appreciate Pineda's talent; he's got a great voice. (Just not Steve Perry great!)

And I think it was a smart move on Journey's part to hire a singer with international appeal, and such an interesting back story, although the film does seem to focus more on the monotony of touring than it does on Pineda's past. If you ever wondered what keyboardist Jonathan Cain looked like trying on belts before a show, you'll get your answer here. Also: Lots of scenes of band members getting massages.

Still, the many musical moments are sure to fire up the closing night crowd. I can hear them singing Don't Stop Believin' already...

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