Entertaining docu follows the plucking from poverty of a Manila fanboy to serve as frontman of classic-rock supergroup Journey.
Proving that the Internet can sometimes reward actual talent, and/or that veteran rockers know the value of stranger-than-fiction spin, Ramona Diaz’s entertaining docu “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey” follows the plucking from poverty of a Manila fanboy to serve as frontman of classic-rock supergroup Journey. Cranked-to-11 pic benefits from the charisma (and rock-solid pipes) of Arnel Pineda, but also from the laidback likability of Neal Schon, the Journey guitarist who discovered Pineda belting out the hits on YouTube. Alas, at nearly two hours, the movie never ends; it goes on and on (and on and on), per the titular tune.
Making more than the most of a documentarian’s backstage pass, Diaz (“Imelda”) can be somewhat forgiven for the film’s epic balladry, at least in the sense that “Don’t Stop” means to capture the gruelingly monotonous nature of a rock star’s life on the road. Performing “Faithfully” (and other cheesy chart-toppers) for huge crowds of Bic-flicking concertgoers four nights a week, the longhaired, lovably immodest Pineda is clearly living a Journey fan’s ultimate dream, but he also has to contend with a perpetually sore throat, along with the boredom of incessant travel and the severely culture-shocking pressures of newfound fame.
In talking-head passages, Pineda, faithfully married to the supportive Cherry, speaks philosophically about having lived hand-to-mouth in Manila while struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, and about the endless temptation to “sin” on tour. Such observations lend gravity even to the concert footage, wherein Pineda channels the melodramatic spirit of former Journey singer Steve Perry while adding his own scrappy joie de vivre, covering every inch of the gigantic stage while somehow managing to stay in tune.
Not unlike Journey itself, “Don’t Stop Believin'” hits corny but impassioned notes, resonating emotionally even (or especially) through cliches. Certainly the film makes a case for the validity of the reformulated band — no small feat, some would say — while conveying the personalities of individual members and the camaraderie that extends fully to the group’s newest addition. Culminating in the Manila concert that brought it all back home for Pineda, the pic features interviews with crushed-out Filipino fans, one of whom marvels at how Journey “inherited a nation” when it went on tour with Manila’s most fortunate son.
Pic’s tech package appears solid, although sound quality varies a bit even in pro-recorded live performance scenes. Editing falters in terms of failing to prune individual passages, and of awkwardly presenting Pineda’s Chile debut after what counts as his second appearance with the band. Diaz does deftly capture a handful of spontaneous, sometimes hilarious moments, as when the once-unknown singer who replaced Chicago’s frontman Peter Cetera introduces himself to Pineda backstage, saying he knows exactly how the new guy feels.
A concluding title card asserts that Journey’s 1981 hit “Don’t Stop Believin'” is the most downloaded of all 20th-century songs; on and on it goes, indeed.