A wholesome and tuneful drama about generational friction set against a contempo rockabilly backdrop, “Don’t Let Go” reps a grafting of family-friendly narrative onto distinctive music with readily identifiable iconography. Hybrid feels as defiantly out of step with mainstream trends as the hermetically sealed yet enduring world of the music itself, suggesting auds on the lookout for one or both elements will support item fervently, while the uninitiated will merely shrug. Theatrical and fest prospects are modest, while the goodie-goodie nature that limits pic’s multiplex appeal will bolster its presence in ancillary and on homevid.
Black-and-white prologue establishes the 1958 success of the Texas Tumbleweeds, a typically high-energy rockabilly outfit fronted by swaggeringly sincere siblings Jimmy Ray and Billy Joe Stevens (Michael Davison, Justin Shilton). When Billy Joe is killed by a greaser while protecting his brother (who’s romancing the tough’s gal), Jimmy Ray is so grief-stricken that he gives up music for the bottle.
Forty years later, Jimmy Ray (Scott Wilson), now a quiet, bitter alcoholic who tinkers in his junkyard, refuses to attend the concerts of his sons Billy Joe (Levi Kreis) and Johnny Blue (Brad Hawkins), who are burning up the local Texas circuit as leaders of the Texas Two-Tones. Although they all live under the same roof, the boys are virtually estranged from their father, with only mom Charlene (Katharine Ross) keeping them together.
When a Texas Tumbleweeds compilation is issued to commemorate the group’s 40th anni, the boys decide to organize a fund-raising concert at the same drive-in where their uncle was murdered.
In the interim, Billy Joe buys a vintage guitar from junk-shop owner Hazel (Irma P. Hall) that turns out to be his late uncle’s long-lost ax. As the climactic concert unfolds, it’s a foregone conclusion that Jimmy Ray will strap on the hollow-body Guild and rip into his old hit, flanked by his grinning sons.
Transplanted Brit helmer Max Myers displays a go-for-broke enthusiasm for this indigenous American music, and his good-looking young leads sport tasteful versions of the pomaded hair, sneer, tight T-shirts, tattoos and vintage cars ‘n’ geetars vital to the milieu. Yet too often that vitality gets in the way of basic storytelling.
Short shrift is given to such promising plot threads as Jimmy Ray’s faithful pal Wes (James Keane), Johnny Blue’s squeeze Christina (Christine Carlo) and, particularly, beefy, blissed-out Bo Hopkins as a placid promoter known only as “The Boss.”
Pic’s chief dramatic surprise is vet Wilson, who shakes off script’s early emphasis on the boys to sell a character bewildered by his own conflicting emotions but helpless to check his impotent rage. Fledgling C&W heartthrob Hawkins limns the period with the same intensity he displayed in 1999 CBS miniseries “Shake, Rattle & Roll,” while newcomer Kreis looks like an appealingly rougher blend of Harry Connick and early Bruce Springsteen.
Although her role is underwritten, Ross still has the same mix of come-hither comfort and fiery defiance first seen in “The Graduate” more than three decades ago.
Tech credits are pro, particularly the muscular aural attack of the soundtrack, which features 17 classic and newly minted tunes. That’s rockabilly vet Mac Curtis as himself, performing his own composition “Bop With Me.” Locations in and around Lindsay and Porterville, Calif., stand in nicely for rural Texas.