Ramona Diaz' "Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey" may not be the
most "important" documentary of the past several years, but it is
certainly one of the most fascinating. And uplifting.
The movie begins with a predicament: the remaining members of the
classic rock group Journey have decided to both return to the studio to
start recording new material and go on tour where they will need to
perform all their familiar hits for their millions of rabid fans who
are expecting them to sound the way they did decades before. Yet, their
lead singer, Steve Perry, has long since left the group. What are a
bunch of aging rockers to do? The answer they come up with is to mount
a search for someone who can approximate Perry's distinctive and
universally recognizable vocal stylings. That's where Arnel Pineda
comes in - an amateur singer in the Philippines who had previously
posted 60 videos of himself mainly doing cover versions of Journey's
hits on-line. The similarity between his voice and the voice of Perry
is uncanny, so the group plucks him out of obscurity and puts him
front-and-center with them on stage and in the studio. This movie is a
record of that experience.
To show just how far he's risen, the movie briefly chronicles Arnel's
hardscrabble life as an orphan in the Philipines, often living on the
streets, literally singing for his supper and that of his siblings.
Drug and alcohol abuse and a broken marriage also figure prominently in
Arnel's pre-Journey history. But all that is in the past, as now he not
only gets to perform with his favorite band, but he is happily married
with a young daughter. Indeed, the only negative aspect of the tour for
Arnel is that it requires him to be away from his home and loved ones
for such an extended period of time. But such is the life of a rock
The movie also fleshes out the history of the band itself, from its
years of worldwide success to its periods of wilderness-wandering
obscurity, from its temporary dissolution in the '90s to its successful
comeback today. These experienced, wiser heads are able to keep this
newbie focused on not only what is good about touring, but the
potential pitfalls that await someone not ready for all that comes with
fame and glory and life on the road. Thanks in large part to them but
also to his own inner strength of character, Arnel is able to keep his
feet planted firmly on the ground, even while his head is,
understandably, in the clouds.
And indeed throughout the experience, Arnel remains a humble,
self-effacing figure, a man who, despite being overwhelmed by the
adoration of Journey's fans, never allows himself to forget where it is
he came from and how extraordinarily blessed he is in being able to
live out this never-in-my-wildest-dreams fantasy-come-true.
As for the original members of the band - Neal Schon, Ross Valory,
Jonathan Cain, Deen Castronova - they do tend to become bit-players in
the film while Arnel takes center stage, but it is clear that they are
equally cognizant of the fact they owe as much to Arnel as he does to
them for helping make this hugely successful comeback possible. It is
obvious that the members not only welcome Arnel in with "open arms" but
that a genuine bond of fellowship and friendship has developed amongst
As Arnel himself admits, this is really a rock music Cinderella story
with Neil Schon, who discovered him, as the fairy godmother and the
tour the grand ball.
And the whole thing culminates in a raucous performance of "Don't Stop
Believing" before a stadium full of screaming, adoring Filipino fans,
all beaming with pride at the sight of a home town boy hitting the big
time - and if that scene doesn't leave you with a lump in your throat
and a chill running up and down your spine, you just might want to get
those two organs checked out for defectiveness.
Even those who don't much care for Journey - if any such people exist
amongst us - can have a great time with this film.