The title of this biopic of Richard Pimentel, the gifted—and deaf—public speaker who’s worked for decades to improve the lives of people with disabilities, is a reference to Oliver Wendell Holmes’ observation that “most people go to their graves with their music still inside them.” Unfortunately, the cast and crew of Music Within don’t get much of their own music out here—at best, they hum a few bars of an off-key tune.
Helming his first feature, Steven Sawalich proves to be tone deaf—unable to balance the comedic perspective of star Ron Livingston’s voiceover with the oft-tragic nature of the events he’s narrating: the unhinging of Pimentel’s mother’s mind brought on by seven miscarriages in eight years, the crushing of his father by an errant barrel of soy sauce, the deafening of Pimentel himself by a mortar attack on a celebratory beer bash during the Vietnam War.
Livingston is an eminently likable lead, but that can’t change the fact that he is also 40 years old. And he looks every year of it, no matter if he’s supposed to be Pimentel as a scrappy poor kid trying to win his way into college at an open public-speaking tournament or as a workaholic loner stridently stumping for the Americans with Disabilities Act almost 20 years later.
Pimentel’s changing lives, but ignoring his own, alienating the cast of characters who helped the naturally gifted speaker discover that he actually had something to say after returning from ’Nam. His hippie-chick ladylove Christine (Melissa George) moves out, and disabled buddies Art (Michael Sheen) and Mike (Yul Vazquez) start to move on. Too bad Sawalich proves similarly shortsighted by not paying enough attention to those same characters or delving deeper into who they really are and how they really shaped Pimentel.
Cast: Ron Livingston, Michael Sheen, Melissa George, Yul Vazquez, Hector Elizondo, Rebecca De Mornay and Leslie Nielsen
Director: Steven Sawalich
Screenwriters: Bret McKinney & Mark Andrew Olsen and Kelly Kennemer
Producers: Steven Sawalich and Brett Donowho
Genre: Comedy drama
Rating: R for language including sexual references and some drug content
Running time: 93 min.
Release date: October 26, 2007 ltd., November 9 exp.