Film Review: Hearing is Believing

Basically born blind, the music prodigy in this doc is an inspiration, but this limited, gushy film is not.
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In her “BRAILLE ROCKS” t-shirt, 23-year-old Rachel Flowers is the all-time poster child for overcoming disabilities. Born 15 weeks premature to her single, struggling mom, she weighed just a pound and change, and due to retinopathy of prematurity lost her sight after her first three months.

But when her mother taught her “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” at two, Rachel soon proved herself a wiz on the keyboard, able to play songs immediately that she had only heard but once, including fugues by Bach. Also possessing perfect pitch, she enrolled in the Southern California Conservatory of Music at four, and by age 15 had already appeared on “60 Minutes” twice.

Producer/director Lorenzo DeStefano, in obvious thrall to Rachel, shadowed her for two years, this world-class talent living from paycheck to paycheck with her mother in Oxnard, CA. She’s an immensely winning presence, with an angelic face, delightfully infectious laugh and open-hearted spirit despite the humongous lemon life handed her.  She’s also completely down-to-earth, despite her lifelong status as a genius prodigy and hotshot music-industry pals like Stevie Wonder, Dweezil Zappa, jazz trumpet player Arturo Sandoval and pianist Taylor Eigsti, who all make admiring appearances in Hearing Is Believing.

Although one is sincerely grateful to have met this remarkable young woman, one also wishes DeStefano had offered more scope in his unabashed love letter. Although he focuses on lengthy demonstrations of her plying her art—playing and singing with uncanny grace, confidence and ease—you still get no idea of where she is, exactly, musically, She sings covers of everything from Wonder’s “Superwoman” to Pharrell’s “Happy,” even performs that bombastic disco version of Beethoven’s Fifth. A clear picture of her own original work as a composer is elusive, and it would have been salutary to see more of her life away from music, and also how this unique and uniquely challenged young woman is negotiating her early 20s, a difficult age in a difficult world for anyone right now.

Click here for cast and crew information.