You absolutely don’t have to be a fan of the rock group Journey to enjoy Ramona Diaz’s “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey.”
Because I’m not. Really. Not to put too fine a point on it, but as someone who was working as a rock critic for the first decade and a half of the group’s existence, I always regarded them as unexplainably popular, an at-best thoroughly mediocre hit-making machine. Not quite in the same league as Yes for pretentiousness, but approaching that same ’80s-era-level of arena-rock bombast.
But I found myself caught up in this film, which is the story of Arnel Pineda, who was a 40-year-old former street kid in Manila, The Philippines, who was an itinerant rock singer, moving from club band to club band in his hometown. One night, someone shot video of him in his latest gig, singing in a cover band in a Manila club – warbling a Journey song, as it happened.
So in 2007, when the real Journey found itself without a lead singer to book the kind of “legacy” tour that has become so popular, they began an exhaustive search – which ended when guitarist Neal Schon came across the YouTube video of Pineda. They were impressed enough to fly him to L.A. from the Philippines for an audition – then told him he had the job.
He was the lead singer of Journey.
He had never played for more than a couple hundred people in a club. His first gig was in a stadium in Chile before tens of thousands.
And Diaz was the filmmaker who got Pineda to agree to let her to go along for his wild ride. Plucked from obscurity, he lands in the recording studio with the group, then goes on an international tour with them – and discovers that it is both physically exhausting and vocally demanding to do a lengthy tour with a full 90-minute show most nights.
It’s not just the singing, though his voice is pretty amazing, given how small he is physically and how big it is aurally. But he hits the stage like a jumping jack, Mick Jagger times David Lee Roth, divided by Steven Tyler: racing back and forth on the stage, leaping from risers and performing split kicks – he’s a human pinball, caroming around the stage.
This review continues on my website.