Young Ray helps guide his brother Tony through town.
We first meet the Johnston family in a small rural Texas town where single mom Janice (Cybill Shepherd) is struggling to raise her two young sons, Ray (Will Rothhaar) and Tony (Jeremy Lelliott) while working at menial jobs like tending bar and being a housemaid for a wealthy local woman. But keeping two jobs is difficult for Janice, with the special needs of Tony, who is blind and diagnosed as being autistic. Younger brother Ray is fiercely protective of Tony and helps guide him around town. Without enough money for day care or any kind of specialized schooling for Tony, she often has to bring them to work with her, which causes problems with her employers. People in town including the sheriff are telling her that nothing good will come of Tony which adds to her frustration.
Tony is mesmerized by the sound of wind chimes.
Then a whole new side of Tony is revealed when Janice and Ray discover that Tony has extraordinary musical abilities. Attracted to any kind of musical sound, but especially that of the piano, it turns out that Tony is a rare musical genius, a savant who can listen to any musical composition and immediately play it back on the piano. It doesn’t matter whether the music is popular or classical, Tony has the ability to absorb its content by ear and then immediately play it back on the piano with flawless technique. This pays off for Janice because Tony now is able to play the piano at the bar where Janice works as a waitress, splitting the tips he makes with the owner. With this change in circumstances, Janice has definite ideas about how to raise Tony. She wants him to attend the finest school for the deaf, the Perkin’s School in Boston, rather than remain in Texas where Tony can’t receive that type of training. But the Perkin’s School is a long way off, and a private school. It takes her six years of scrimping and saving, and despite the pleading of her best friend Marvele (Kay Lenz) and even the concerns of Ray and Tony (now played by Blake Heron and Chris Demetral), Janice is determined to bring her boys to Boston, where she hopes she can persuade the school to admit Tony with a scholarship because of his incredible musical abilities.
Ray and his mom discover that Tony has incredible musical talent.
In Boston, Janice runs into roadblocks at the Perkins School, which has its policies and procedures, and doesn't specialize in musical training, even though they have an accomplished music teacher, Thomas Deblois (Stephen Lang). At the same time, she talks her way into a job so she can support her family with the higher cost of living in Boston. Fate helps things out when a local music store sponsors a contest to give away a piano to the best amateur pianist. Tony blows the competition out when he flawlessly performs the very difficult Fantaisie Impromptu in C# Minor by Chopin, a piece you would expect to hear performed by accomplished professional pianists not a blind teenager. (For some reason Janice introduces the piece as the Rainbow Song, but it’s definitely not a Muppet song!) When Thomas sees an article about this in the newspaper, he quickly alerts the Perkins staff, and within days they are at Tony’s apartment, working out the details to get him accepted into their school on a scholarship. As the weeks and months progress, another positive development is Thomas’ growing attraction to Janice, his “Texas woman” as he describes it, and eventually they become a couple. Janice and the boys move to his place. There are other issues. A well known research scientist wants to bring Tony to New York so he and his team can do an in depth study of what makes him tick. Tony makes extraordinary progress in his personal development and as all teenagers do, seeks greater independence, something that gradually begins to conflict with Janice’s tight control over his life. He meets Julia (Cassidy Rae) when they are assigned to perform a duet together for an audition to the Berklee School of Music For the first time Tony must deal with a relationship outside his family circle.
Janice, Marvelle, and Ray discuss their future.
Journey of the Heart was originally made for television, but can now be seen on Amazon Prime. The film is well cast with Cybill Shepherd giving a strong performance as the determined mother who won’t take no for an answer. Both sets of actors who play Ray and Tony are excellent and as a viewer you quickly get behind these characters: Tony, the somewhat flighty musical genius determined to have normality in his life, and Ray, the ever supportive younger brother who never gives up his dream of becoming a professional baseball player. Stephen Lang adds a nice balance to the cast in his role as Tony’s teacher at the Perkin’s School, and later as stepfather to both boys. A nice touch in the story is how Thomas is able to not only help Tony in his personal and musical development but also supports Ray by playing catch with him and showing him things about baseball like how to pitch a split finger fast ball. Director Karen Arthur and scriptwriter Dalene Young have put together an enjoyable film that is based on real events.
Ray points out the location of their new apartment in Boston.
A family picnic with their new father/husband Thomas.
Both Will Rothhaar who plays young Ray and Blake Heron who plays teenager Ray wear black high top chucks throughout the film. There are not a lot of closeups, but as always with black high top chucks, they are noticeable in the cinematography and a part of Ray’s look. Probably the best scene is after Thomas has joined their family, not only as Tony’s teacher at the Perkin’s School, but as their stepfather and wife for Janice. They are having a picnic in a local park and we see nice shots of Ray’s chucks at the picnic table and later as he is helping Tony to navigate some brick stairs.
Ray guides Tony down some stairs in the park.
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