I vaguely remember a time when listening to Journey was seen as uncool. Their involvement in what was known as arena rock may have been popular in the mainstream and commercially successful, but there was always a distinct crowd that viewed what bands like Journey, Boston, REO Speedwagon, Styx and many others did as going against everything rock and roll had been about since its inception. It was anti-establishment. It was standing up to the man. It wasn't about pyrotechnics and elaborate stage production and cool lighting. However, over the years, those bands have gained more and more acceptance in the music world as a brand of classic rock, and, when it comes to Journey... well, I challenge you to find me some place where everyone doesn't belt into singing at the top of their lungs the moment "Don't Stop Believin'" comes up on the sound system. It wasn't always good times for the band though, with Journey breaking up in 1984 really at the height of their popularity after their tight brotherhood had splintered as each member went off to deal with their own personal issues. They did reunite with famed lead singer Steve Perry back in 1995, but just two years later, they had moved on from him once again, following a severe hip injury, eventually bringing Steve Augeri into the fold for nearly a decade as the band's frontman until his voice just couldn't handle the stress of those songs on a regular basis any more. Lacking a lead vocalist, they scoured the internet for videos of cover bands and tribute bands looking for a talent who could capably handle their catalog of songs for a potential spot in Journey. They eventually came up Filipino singer Arnel Pineda, and DON'T STOP BELIEVIN': EVERYMAN'S JOURNEY is a documentary that spotlights his struggles fitting into the band while also adjusting to the culture shock of coming from a third-world country to being the on-tour lead singer for an extremely popular musical act.
As a big fan of music docs who could spend an entire afternoon vegging out on my couch watching VH1's BEHIND THE MUSIC episode after episode after episode, I walked away rather disappointed with DON'T STOP BELIEVIN', and how Ramona S. Diaz managed to do that with such an interesting story to tell about Pineda's journey from the Philippines to Journey is beyond me. The material is there already and should make for a fascinating film... but first off, it's just too long. DON'T STOP BELIEVIN' shouldn't be any longer than an hour tops, really getting at the important moments of Pineda's time for Journey - who he is, where he came from, his discovery, the audition, the battle for acceptance, the inevitable comparisons to Steve Perry, the pressure, the expectations, etc. It's a simple formula to be followed, hitting the high and low points for a roller coaster ride of sorts that leaves you rooting for a guy who is worthy of your enthusiastic support. And yet Diaz's doc can't seem to get that right at all. It rambles, and unevenly bounces between Pineda's story and the history of the band, which strangely isn't even introduced into the equation until about halfway through the film. There are two extended history lessons that give you the rundown about how the band started, how it progressed, how it evolved and ultimately, through its trials and tribulations, how it wound up seeking out the services of Pineda, but they both feel incredibly wedged in a film that really isn't about the band as a whole but about this one underdog who made his way to the big time after having to overcome some pretty big obstacles growing up in his own life just to be in a position where the opportunity to sing with Journey might arise. If you're going to tell the story of Journey, go right ahead... but you'd better get into it right from the beginning, making that the focus of your film, because if you're aiming just to focus on Pineda, then the band's past really comes across as filler, meant to bloat the film to a longer running time than what would be the better approach.
Pineda is a nice, quiet guy, and he has been through a lot. When he takes the stage, he is absolutely electric... but, behind the scenes, there's not much to him. He's quite introverted as he tries to find his footing among the likes of Neal Schon, Ross Valory, Jonathan Cain and Deen Castronovo, but there's only so much one could take of the same guy explaining how nervous he is. That doesn't necessarily make a good film. Pineda may make for a tremendous story, but leaning on him so much and his repetitive comments about how he feels on the whole Journey whirlwind experience is not nearly enough to get this documentary where it needs to be. Watching Pineda take the stage with his new bandmates is definitely something to watch, as the young man has an incredible voice that can certainly hold a candle to Steve Perry's pipes, but DON'T STOP BELIEVIN' can only do so much with those live performances. Otherwise, we're talking about a Journey concert movie, which would be a different animal altogether. But as it stands now, DON'T STOP BELIEVIN' is a brutal edit away from being a good film. Heavily slashed, this could be an excellent look at this stage of Journey - in and out in an hour, as these band examinations typically are. But there's just far too much time spent watching guys doing nothing, preparing for a show just like they did for the one before, that really drags the film down for long periods of time. It almost feels as if you're being put through the grind of a world tour. There are sections that are very tedious and bring nothing to light or really anything to the table for that matter, and it's unfortunate, because you can't help but find Arnel Pineda to be a likeable guy. But he's stuck in an unlikable movie. On paper, the tale of DON'T STOP BELIEVIN' would make an excellent article of a few pages, concise and to the point. As it stands now, the movie would be that same article trying to be stretched into a novel, grasping at straws to get to an hour and 40 minutes for no real reason at all. How this film got so big is a mystery to me, but it's a disservice to what should have been an easy and riveting story to tell. This one is a blown slam dunk.
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