Though responsible for a number of the most enduringly lucrative and popular rock anthems of all time, Journey is met these days with reactions of derisiveness or, at best, consciously ironic appreciation. Though formed in the early 1970s, the band is undeniably a 1980s band at heart, reflective of an ideology that’s firmly rooted in an era in which American pop culture, particularly movies and rock music, explicitly peddled bombastic self-actualization with little nuance. Despite the calculation and absurdity of their music though, I’ve always felt that Journey’s somewhat underrated, if for nothing else than for the naked conviction they invest in their kitsch, particularly in the context of the unceasing irony that currently characterizes so much of contemporary culture.
Sadly, those looking for any insight into Journey from Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey are going to have to look elsewhere. The doc follows Journey as they adjust to new frontman Arnel Pineda, a struggling Filipino singer the band discovered, astonishingly, from Pineda’s karaoke routines on YouTube. Writer-director Ramona S. Diaz dutifully covers the traditional rocker anecdotes, which most prominently detail Pineda’s prior hard knocks (the requisite rocker drinking, drugging, and poverty problems), as well as his rehearsals with the band that, most interestingly, concern Pineda’s efforts to match the vocals of the huge white elephant in the room: the original, and iconic, singer Steve Perry. We’re also provided a brief and incomplete recap of Journey’s history (the specifics of Perry’s departure, as well as the general musical-chairs rotation of varying band members throughout the years, are pointedly elided), as well as the obligatory feel-good finale in which Pineda surmounts his obstacles to the glowing adulation of thousands of fans.
Watching Don’t Stop Believin’, one quickly realizes that anything potentially interesting has probably hit the cutting room floor. Diaz amazingly manages to miss almost every irony that’s inherent in this story, most obviously the fact that Journey resuscitated their career by openly embracing the corporate karaoke-act reputation that’s (understandably) dogged them for decades. The possibility that Pineda was recruited as a publicity stunt that’s meant to openly affirm the everyman subject matter of Journey’s music is never broached, as we’re supposed to accept, ludicrously, that this band, however past their prime it may be, had to sift through the dregs of YouTube for talent. This conviction is further undermined by Pineda himself, an ingratiating guy with a serviceable Perry impression who appears to be, at best, a mediocre talent with a voice that’s often supported in concerts by speakers blasting the original Perry vocals—a fact that’s occasionally, embarrassingly, emphasized when Pineda pauses to allow the crowd to sing the lyrics.
The film has virtually no conflict or focus, which leaves us with 105 long minutes of shapeless footage that’s mostly compromised of talking heads saying dull and obvious things. In its unwavering determination to pander to its subject, Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey inadvertently further discredits a band that only has so much reputation to squander.