The 1980s arena band Journey needed a lead singer, so it could go on a revival tour a few years back, but they couldn’t find anybody. At a certain point, every successful rock band becomes its own tribute band, and so the goal was to find someone who sounded as much like Journey’s original lead singer Steve Perry as possible. Finally, the ideal singer was found, of all places, on YouTube, singing with his cover band in the Philippines.
Arnel Pineda is a small, thin Filipino with a thick accent who, when he gets in front of a microphone, sounds so much like Steve Perry it’s downright comical. His story, and it’s a good one, is the focus of “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey,” which chronicles everything from his discovery, to his audition, through his tour with the band in 2007 and beyond.
Yet two things hold back “Don’t Stop Believin“’ as a documentary. The first is that it presents the world of Journey and the people in it through such a lens of love and light that it begins to seem like a publicity film. Yes, it’s very possible that the guys in Journey are all beautiful souls, but it’s hard to believe that a worldwide tour should produce not a single moment of discord or even grumpiness. It feels selectively edited toward a pre-determined point of view.
The second flaw is that it leaves out vital information. It doesn’t, for example, answer the big question, “What happened to Steve?” And, before they found Arnel, why weren’t the members of Journey doing what I would have done under the same circumstances, which is to show up at Steve Perry’s door begging? There’s some history there we’re not getting, and it’s probably not all happy.
When viewers don’t get what they want, they tend to be dissatisfied with what they get, but “Don’t Stop Believin“’ is interesting enough on its own terms: The wretched poverty of Pineda’s childhood in Manila is beyond Dickensian, and he’s such a pleasant, appealing person that it’s easy to enjoy and appreciate his rise in the world. Still, as the movie wears on, a desire builds for more Journey and less Arnel.