Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey: Film Review

Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey Still - H 2013
This uplifting rock doc will provide inspiration to countless karoake singers.

Ramona S. Diaz's documentary tells the rags-to-riches story of Arnel Pineda, plucked from obscurity to become the lead singer of Journey.

If YouTube wasn’t stuffed with homemade videos by aspiring rock stars already, it will surely overflow with them after the release of Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey. Ramona S. Diaz’s documentary recounts the unlikely rags-to-riches story of Arnel Pineda, a Filipino singer plucked from obscurity to become the lead singer of the mega-selling rock band Journey.

In 2007, the decades-old band was in the market for a new lead singer to replace Steve Augeri, who was suffering from vocal problems. It was a tough role to fill, especially considering their iconic longtime frontman Steve Perry, whose powerful voice can be heard on such hits as the one that gives the film its title (and took on a whole new life when it was famously featured in the final scene of The Sopranos).

Going through the process of scouring Journey tribute bands, founding guitarist Neal Schon was searching YouTube when he came upon a video from the Philippines featuring Arneda performing one of their songs in a small club, sounding uncannily like Perry. The band eventually tracked him down, and in true Cinderella fashion, the unknown singer -- whose past struggles included poverty and drug- and alcohol abuse -- suddenly was singing before thousands of fans in giant arenas.

In the process, Pineda became a hero in his native country and, not surprisingly, gave the band a vast new Filipino fan base. Not that his ascension came without problems: Some fans complained that his vocals were too copycat-like, while others conveyed more racist sentiments. The singer’s resulting insecurities, compounded by throat problems caused by frequent illness, bring some much-needed tension to the documentary.

Otherwise, it’s primarily a feel-good story, emphasized in such scenes as when returning hero Pineda is seen talking about his unlikely success to a class of adoring young schoolchildren. His ingratiating personality is displayed in numerous interviews, while his fellow band members provide gushing testimonials about his vocal prowess. Naturally, it culminates in footage from a sold-out concert in Manila during which Pineda belts out the titular song.

Although the overlong film skirts with hagiography, at times feeling more like a promotional DVD extra than an objective account, it nonetheless has an undeniable emotional pull thanks to its fairy tale-like narrative.                

Opens: Friday, March 8 (Cinedigm Entertainment Group)
Production: Arcady Bay Entertainment, CineDiaz, Defining Entertainment, Game 7 Films
Director-screenwriter: Ramona S. Diaz
Producers: Ramona S. Diaz, Capella Fahoome
Executive producers: Ramona S. Diaz, Capella Fahoome, Joshua A. Green
Directors of photography: Julia Dengel, Vicente Franco
Editor: Leah Marino
Not rated, 105 minutes