Everyone loves a story in which a likable underdog triumphs and finds success; it’s a formula that’s been proven to be a hit with film audiences over and over again. The latest example of this is the story of Arnel Pineda, who was plucked out of obscurity from his life playing in cover bands in the Philippines to become the new frontman of Journey. Ramona S. Diaz’s documentary, which played at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, offers an engaging, sweeping overview of Pineda’s story, which is buoyed by the cheesy but classic sounds of Journey and Pineda’s soft-spoken, humble charm. Without either of these elements, Everyman’s Journey would be a far less interesting film.
In the late ’70s and early ’80s, Journey was huge, releasing hit after sappy but insanely catchy arena-rock-ballad hit—the titular “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Wheel in the Sky,” “Any Way You Want It” and “Lights” are just a few. After Steve Perry left the band, Journey had several other lead singers, none of whom would reach the same level of success with the band. In 2007, the band was looking for yet another lead singer, and came across some of Pineda’s performances on YouTube. It is not an exaggeration to say that he is pretty much a vocal dead-ringer for Steve Perry—his vocals soar effortlessly and almost pitch-perfectly just like his predecessor. Band members were dubious about even auditioning Pineda at first, recounting in the film how they felt about “taking someone from the Third World and throwing them into the circus.” But after flying Pineda out to San Francisco to audition, they were taken with his singing and decided to offer him the job.
The band played its first concerts with Pineda in South America, and after a slightly shaky start, they knew they had made the right choice. Throughout the film, Pineda talks about his experiences from childhood to rock stardom, in a mixture of English and Tagalog, and it’s fascinating. He looks much younger than his mid-40s age, a stark comparison to the awesomely cheesy senior rockers of the band with their styled haircuts and Ed Hardy t-shirts. Pineda came from an extremely humble background, sinking into drugs and alcohol as he struggled to make it in his home country. He can still hardly believe his luck, five or six years later, as he marvels at the fame, fortune and fans he comes across as Journey embarks upon sell-out tours. You can’t help but cheer for Pineda as he struggles to fill Steve Perry’s “big shoes,” as he terms it. There are some doubters—one fan who is interviewed expresses the opinion that it would be better if the new singer for Journey “was from here”—but most fans are onboard, especially the Filipino contingent, who see Pineda as a beacon for their country.
The film offers a brief retrospective or Journey’s career, with some interesting details—they started out as more of a rock fusion jam band, for example. But the film is really about the present, or recent past anyway, and that’s the core of what makes it so entertaining. Cameras follow the band around the U.S., talking to Pineda on the tour bus and in his dressing room as he nurses his throat with hot tea, spray, and, always, a colored scarf wrapped around his neck. Throughout it all, he comes across as a pretty grounded guy, but also like he is in a dream from which he doesn’t want to wake. The band seems to really love him, and when the film follows them back to the Philippines for a triumphant hometown concert, this really becomes apparent. Don’t Stop Believin’ is more than just a rock documentary. It is, like the subtitle says, a story of an average Joe making good in a way he could never have imagined, and that’s endlessly entertaining.
Director: Ramona S. Diaz
Starring: Arnel Pineda, Neal Schon, Jonathan Cain,
Release Date: Mar. 8, 2013