Arnel Pineda may not have an “all-American” look, but his story is as American as apple pie.
Pineda steals the show in Don’t Stop Believin: Everyman’s Journey, the documentary capturing his entry into classic rock lore.
The film avoids a few critical areas, and its second half lacks the potency of the first. Don’t Stop Believin’ remains a heartwarming peek behind a band’s unlikely survival. With apologies to Don King, only in America could a rock band thrive with a formerly homeless Filipino man who owns up to drinking his way to failure.
Journey guitarist Neal Schon was scouring the Web looking for potential lead singers when he happened upon a YouTube clip of a Filipino man who could channel prominent rockers. He was short and slight, but his take on some Journey classics convinced Schon to find him, starting a remarkable trek from cover band hero to rock idol.
It wouldn’t be easy.
First, Pineda had to prove he could duplicate his uncanny vocals in the studio. More importantly, would fans accept an American rock outfit led by a Filipino singer with a knack for replicating the band’s great tracks Faithfully? The film shows a few “fans” who blast Pineda initially with racist slurs, but Pineda’s talents quickly win over open-minded Americans.
The documentary does everything it can to avoid the elephant on the screen–former lead singer Steve Perry. It’s Perry’s voice that Pineda captures with both power and authenticity, but the famous split between Perry and his mates is given one short, throwaway line.
That’s simply unacceptable given the band’s singular arc.
Journey’s long-time members are equally guarded, a side effect from decades of fame. We see few moments where they doubt Pineda’s chances of success, or even whether the band’s newer numbers can stand tall to their iconic numbers. The film barely touches on Journey’s more recent songbook.
Pineda’s considerable gifts, humble nature and appreciation for his lottery-sized luck give the documentary a beautiful core. He’s a hero to his native Filipinos, and he understands all too well the odds facing him as he embarks on his first live tour.
Writer/director Ramona S. Diaz captures the dizziness of those first few concerts, the sight of Pineda scrambling across the stage like David Lee Roth on speed, and the realization that this experiment just might work. Diaz also delivers behind the scenes details that make this rock doc dazzle, like the care Pineda and his cohorts take to keep their singer’s voice supple and strong.
Journey’s fans welcome Pineda in short order, which leaves a dramatic lull in the film’s waning moments. What’s left is Pineda coming to grips with his fame and wondering how he’ll mesh his small-town life with that of a touring rocker.
Best of all is the music, those essential Journey songs brimming with optimism, a fitting complement to Pineda’s own trek into American rock history.