Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey is a thoroughly enjoyable, feel-good documentary that proves dreams can come true if you keep at it long enough, even if you live in the most far-flung and remote corners of the world.
That's exactly what happened to 40-year-old Arnel Pineda, the Filipino singer at the center of the documentary. In 2007, You Tube videos of him singing Journey cover songs with his band in Manila, Philippines, caught the attention of the U.S. band Journey in 2007, which at the time was looking for a new lead singer.
Pineda was flown to San Francisco to audition and after a stressful two-day process, he got the gig. American-Filipino filmmaker Ramona Diaz heard about the story and thought it would make for a compelling documentary. After pitching the band and getting their approval, she embarked on Journey's first tour with Pineda at their new voice, chronicling the singer's life as it took a 180-degree turn from being a singer in club band to being the lead singer in one of the world's biggest rock bands.
Diaz's timing couldn't have been better. When Pineda began his new journey, so to speak, he had no entourage whatsoever with him on the road. And English was not his first language; the Filipino language, Tagalog, was. Therefore, Diaz (who also happens to speak Tagalog) and her four-member crew became Pineda's sounding board, capturing all of his thoughts on camera that would ostensibly be swimming in around in his head, overwhelming him, if he were alone.
Pineda's musings include everything from excitement to nerves to disappointment to homesickness to dealing with racism when Internet chatter spawns some outrage that a non-white singer came in to the band, even if he does sound like a dead ringer for former Journey frontman Steve Perry.
Diaz elevates what could have been a standard VH1 Behind the Music to something that is less about rock and roll, and more about the person in it. Not just a backstage pass to a Journey rock concert, the viewer also visits Manila and sees Pineda's former life on the streets, surrounded by poverty, followed by a youth of excessive drinking, drugging and women. His late-blooming success at 40 has taught him a greater appreciation for life and he is determined not to do anything to screw it up.
Journey band members get plenty of time in the spotlight. The film goes over the band's history from the time they formed in the '70s and their various travails through different lead singers. Diaz does not delve in to the nitty gritty of the band and its rocky history -- which might disappoint some rock music fans -- keeping the focus on her fellow Filipino's trajectory instead.
One might say Diaz may be slightly enamored with her subject matter, but Pineda's new stature is obviously a big deal for the worldwide Filipino community, hence the filmmaker's personal interest in the story. Journey band members admit they found themselves a whole new fan base with Pineda's arrival that previously did not exist.
Watching Pineda belt out Journey songs over and over and over again gives non-Journey fans get a sense of appreciation of the band, its staying power, and its many '80s chart-topping hits like "Don't Stop Believin,'" "Faithfully" and "Open Arms." As cheesy as they may seem at times, in Pineda's personal arc, they seem like a fitting soundtrack to a Cinderella life. This is not the definitive Journey documentary, but it's the definitive cusp of Pineda's life as a Journey member.