'Don't Stop Believin'' tells Pineda's story, faithfully
05:00 AM, Mar 06, 2013
It’s hardly business as usual when a rock doc opens in an elementary school in Manila.
This scene-setting device in Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey (* * * out of four; not rated; opens Friday in select cities) grabs the viewers’ attention and keeps it throughout this well-structured and compelling tale. This is not your everyday concert film, as it profiles the newest, and most unlikely, addition to the 40-year-old San Francisco rock band Journey.
Arnel Pineda was born in the Philippines and sang in clubs in relative obscurity until a fan’s video of him performing wound up on YouTube and caught the eye of Journey lead guitarist Neal Schon in 2007. Pineda was singing the Journey hit Faithfully, and Pineda’s rendition was about as faithful a version as anyone could imagine.
“I thought ‘this is too good to be true,’ ” says Schon, who was searching for a new lead singer at the time. “I said to myself, ‘He’s the guy.’ ”
Pineda, meanwhile, was flabbergasted to get an email from Schon asking: “Interested in singing for the real band Journey?”
He thought it was a hoax. As his wife Cherry Pineda says, “He didn’t want to believe.”
Pineda, now 45, is charmingly self-effacing and engaging throughout the film besides being a dynamic stage presence. He is shown visiting his elementary school 29 years after leaving, and when a teacher asks if he sings well, he answers, “Not really.”
But his new bandmates beg to differ.
“This kid can sing,” says keyboardist/guitarist Jonathan Cain. “He’s unbelievable.”
But Cain had some doubts: “I think my biggest concern was how do you take someone from a third-world country and throw him into this circus?”
Not to worry. Pineda navigated the circus with aplomb and focused on savoring the experience.
“I’m living a fairy tale,” he says.
The film captures the sense of un-reality, the fan adulation and also some of the daily grind as Journey tours. It could, however, have used more scenes of interaction between the band members.
While Pineda comes off as remarkably adaptable, director Ramona S. Diaz catches him in moments when he repeatedly smooths and flicks back his long black hair, capturing perhaps his underlying nervousness. Which is understandable: He grew up poor, and his family was homeless for a time. When his mother died, Pineda became the family breadwinner.
Some fans were not happy about the addition of Pineda, complaining about his ethnicity and dismissing his voice as a “copycat” of popular former lead singer Steve Perry.
“They’re just die-hard fans who got used to Steve Perry’s voice, and I have no argument with that,” says Pineda philosophically. “I’m also a very big fan of Perry. I know where they are coming from.”
But since he joined the band, Journey has drawn a huge Filipino fan base.
“It’s just totally incredible how Arnel Pineda has made the world smaller,” says one concertgoer.
Pineda has expanded his role beyond covering the hits by collaborating on writing songs for the second of two albums he recorded with the band. He has also formed a foundation to provide education and health services to children living on the streets of Manila.
The film is engrossing, if a bit padded, but it’s somewhat strange that it’s being released now, six years after Pineda joined the band. And predictably, the story ends at a concert, with Pineda singing the band’s biggest hit Don’t Stop Believin’.
It’s a story that could only happen in an era of YouTube and American Idol. Well-chronicled and fascinating, Don’t Stop Believin’ is a cinematic journey well worth taking.