I just finished watching Music Within, the new Ron Livingston movie about the true story of Richard Pimentel. Having never seen a trailer for Music Within, having never read the synopsis for the film and having no clue who Richard Pimentel is, I was expecting a sappy romantic comedy about some musician. Considering that the movie never received a wide release, I had to assume that it was going to be a bad, sappy romantic comedy. I was wrong.
Aside from the absolutely horrible title, Music Within is a very good drama about the man who apparently revolutionized the acceptance of disabled persons in the economy and country in general. The drama isn't overpowering and ultimately forgettable, but while watching it is pretty captivating. Livingston plays Pimentel, who starts out as a young man who wants nothing more than to go to college and join the speech team. When he is denied admittance, he does the only other logical thing: he joins the Army and goes to Vietnam. When he returns, he is still as idealistic as ever, except he's lost almost all of his hearing. Now a "disabled" vet, he begins to see the discrimination that people like him, and people who are much worse off than him, face and sets out to do something about it.
The story may not sound all that interesting, but director Steven Sawalich consistently moves along in a natural way. Again, there's nothing overpowering about the story, drama or acting; Livingston, most likely, will never win an Oscar; there is little real conflict standing in the character's way; and the romantic chemistry between Livingston and Melissa George is never very developed... But, Music Within just works. Livingston does a good job in the lead, bringing the charismatic, laid back approach he uses in every movie to a character that properly suits his capabilities. Props to the casting director, or whoever plucked Livingston, best known for comedies, for the role.
Livingston holds his own throughout the course of the movie, which spans several years. If there is any noticeable flaw, it's that Sawalich never establishes the passing of time very well, other than displaying the year on screen. Livingston never seems to age - nor does he look like a college-aged student in the beginning - but if Kevin Spacey can pull off Bobby Darin, I suppose Livingston's lack of aging is not a big deal.
Michael Sheen, playing a crippled Art Honeymoon, also turns in a great performance.
Overall, Music Within establishes a character to believe in and tells his story with real conviction. The drama is not astounding or sensational, but is engaging nonetheless. Music Within is a pleasant surprise - if only I could get past its title.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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