On the surface, Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey appears to be an intriguing documentary. After all, it’s about the real life rock ‘n’ roll fairy tale of the front man of a Filipino tribute band who becomes the lead singer of a signature American 80s rock group. I mean, come on! The fact that this even happened is amazing! It’s every wannabe rock god’s dream and it actually happened – to a guy from the Philippines! With such an inspiring rags to riches basis for a story how could the film not be a fun-filled thrill ride, right? The sad answer is that I don’t know how director Ramona S. Diaz achieved that goal but she did, because this is one of the most boring documentaries I have ever seen.
Honestly, I really wanted to like this film. I’m from what some might call the lower South Bay of San Francisco (home territory to the original members of the band) and one of my very first concert going experiences was seeing Journey at a Day on the Green event at the Oakland Coliseum in 1983. I wasn’t a fan when I went into the stadium that day but I was a convert by the time I came out, and ended up listening to the group’s albums on cassette with my friends over and over again during the long drive home to Santa Cruz. To this day I find the music of Journey to be uplifting, catchy and inspirational – as do millions of others all around the world. In fact the film’s title song is the most downloaded song EVER. So you’d think there’d be a way of capturing this fanatical devotion on screen, right? Apparently not for Diaz, or at least not in this case.
The film starts out exciting enough with Journey’s iconic guitar player Neal Schon explaining how he discovered Arnel during a desperate search on YouTube. That part of the movie will keep you in rapt disbelief as each member of the band contributes to the unfolding of this Cinderella story. Jon, Ross, and Deen (along with Neal) are all tremendous storytellers with great screen presence. And the wonder boy Arnel himself is an incredibly charming and likable guy with a disarming smile. But when it comes down to it, it is his voice that will win over even the hardest-hearted non-believer. It’s truly nothing short of mind blowing just how good this guy is. However, very shortly after this exciting set up the film begins to loose its steam and falls into a series of boring, oft seen glimpses into the real life of a rock and roll musician. Do we really need to see that again?
After Arnel is discovered and the band accepts him there just doesn’t seem to be any more there. We are told of concerns about die-hard fans accepting Arnel, however a few cursory interviews of the first attendees seem to imply that nobody is all that worried about it. And there are no after performance interviews with the concertgoers to give us any idea of what their reactions to the new face are. Really, that kind of footage should have been included somewhere, at some time. And there’s never more than a passing mention of Steve Perry, the man whom Arnel sounds so much like. I understand there are probably reasons for this (the group’s falling out, etc.), but there’s not even a mention in the credits that Perry was approached for comment, or that the band declined to include him. There really should have been some explanation offered even if just in the crawl at the end of the film. The fans would expect and certainly deserve this.
On the more interesting side we are given a slight understanding of the lifetime’s worth of hardships Arnel has overcome. He has, after all been plucked from a third world country and must now navigate the immense pressures of replacing a legendary singer and leading a world-renowned band on their most extensive world tour in years. Unfortunately it doesn’t stay interesting for very long. It’s not that the information itself isn’t worth delving into, it’s that Diaz hardly scratches the surface of the subject sticking to the obvious without explaining further than the information one can find with a quick Google search. I was under the impression documentaries should show more, and that the implication of impending conflict without resulting in any conflict is bad story telling. It’s not that I want fabricated drama, not at all. I just ask that there be a different approach taken. If it’s all sunshine and happiness then show it, rather than false tension (at least it didn’t come across as that big a deal) be created over a minor cold or a soar throat.
Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey features band members Neal Schon, Jonathan Cain, Ross Valory and Deen Castronovo, and has a running time of 105 minutes but feels much, much longer. The film was released recently into select theaters on March 8 and became available on VOD on March 9. But honestly, I encourage you to just check out the trailer at http://www.everymansjourney.com/. It’s a whole lot more interesting and will take a lot less time. Here’s hoping someone comes along and gives this story a better opportunity to tell its tale. I think it’s the least this band deserves. At least that’s what I believe.