Based on a case study by neurologist Oliver Sacks, Jim Kohlberg’s familial saga pits hard-nosed, middle-class engineer Henry Sawyer (Simmons, solid as usual) against his free-spirit son, Gabriel (Pucci) – or rather, his now-adult offspring’s amnesia. Back in 1968, Gabriel was just another hippie kid tuning in, turning on and aching to drop out; after he and Pops get into it over Nam, college, and that damned rock ‘n’ roll racket, the teen hightails it.
Cut to the mid-’80s, when, after decades of estrangement, the family is reunited as Gabriel rehabilitates from a brain-tumour removal. There’s one problem: He remembers nothing past Woodstock. So Henry trades in his Count Basie albums for acid rock – specifically Gabriel’s favorite, the Grateful Dead – in order to communicate with his boy. Welcome to How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love a 27-Minute Version of ‘Dark Star.’
Music not only soothes the savage beast, it can heal all generation-gap rifts as well. (That this takes place during the Reagan era, when ’50s conservatism and ’60s nostalgia duked it out for cultural supremacy, is doubly ironic. Apparently everyone could have just, like, bonded over ‘Truckin’’!)
These kinds of disease-fueled dramas already tend to be soap-operatic, but Kohlberg isn’t taking any chances; by the time father and son end up at a Dead show in matching tie-dyed outfits, the director has aggressively, insistently overplayed audience heartstrings like Jerry Garcia in a long-winded solo. The music eventually winds down; the movie’s mawkishness, however, goes on and on and on.