In many respects, the case of Una Vida (“the
Queen of Royal Street”) is not so different from those chronicled in the
documentary Alive Inside. Although
she suffers from Alzheimer’s, music seems to awaken her memories and offers a
means to relate to the outside world, at least to some extent. However, the
standards she sings are also intertwined in her head with a profound trauma from
decades past. A grieving neuroscientist will be drawn to the vocalist and her
blues guitarist protector in Richie Adams’ Of Mind and Music, which
opens this Friday in Los Angeles.
Much like Dr. Nicholas Bazan, the author of
the film’s source novel, Dr. Alvaro Cruz is an Argentine polyglot neuroscientist
specializing in Alzheimer’s. He is also a New Orleanian through and through
when it comes to music and cuisine. Plagued with guilt when his Alzheimer’s-stricken
mother dies while he is attending an international conference, he seeks solace
in the muffaletttas of the Central Avenue Grocery and the sounds of Frenchmen
Street. At such old school NOLA locales, he regularly encounters Una Vida and
her guitar accompanist, Stompleg. He can tell she suffers from some form of
neurological dementia, but the lyrics of the “gold old good ones” keep her
somewhat tethered and focused.
Dr. Cruz quickly develops an easy rapport with
Stompleg and Una Vida finds him pleasant enough, even though she can’t necessarily
remember him from one day to the next. However, her junkie former minder
Jessica is instantly suspicious of the doctor and jealous of the connection he
might be slowly forging with the withdrawn Una Vida. Nevertheless, she will
need his help when Stompleg is accepted by an out-of-state assisted living
residency for legit blues artists.
means well so ardently it practically aches with good intentions.
Fortunately, it also has an intimate familiarity with New Orleans, which helps
ground the picture and gives it the ring of authenticity. The somewhat pivot
role played by the Louisiana Music Factory earns it multiple bonus points. You could
actually go to a lot of the locations in Mind—in
fact, you really should.
Although he is probably still best known for
playing Bucho in Desperado and Ramon
Salazar in 24, Portuguese-born
Joaquim de Almeida is wonderfully earthy as Dr. Cruz. Quantico’s Aunjanue Ellis is mostly convincing and often quite
compelling as the tragic Una Vida, but it is Bill Cobbs who really lowers the
emotional boom as Stompleg. Frankly, he does award-worthy work, but he gets a
key assist from John Fohl, who dubs Stompleg’s blues guitar. Their rendition of
“Will the Circle Be Unbroken” heard over the closing credits is eerily haunting.
Similarly, Mykia Jovan supplies the deeply soulful vocals of Una Vida.
Unfortunately, Sharon Lawrence (from NYPD
Blue) is mainly stuck watching the drama from the sidelines as Cruz’s eternally
patient wife Angela.
incidental soundtrack is not very jazz or blues, but the inclusion of bandoneon
and clarinet gives it a touch of Louisiana flavoring, while also evoking Dr. Cruz’s
Argentine roots. Of course, you cannot get anymore legit than Kermit Ruffins
and Jon Cleary who briefly appear as themselves. While Adams does not always
skirt every potentially melodramatic pitfall cleanly, the cast and the music
always propel the film forward. Recommended as a valentine to the Crescent City
and a realistic portrayal of the challenges of Alzheimer’s, Of Mind and Music opens this Friday
(3/4) at the Laemmle Music Hall in Los Angeles.
Labels: Bill Cobbs, Joaquim de Almeida, New Orleans