David Chase, mostly known as the creator and show-runner of ‘The Sopranos‘, marks his feature film directorial debut with ‘Not Fade Away‘. I didn’t know quite what to expect from this coming-of-age film that relies heavily on music of the ’50s and ’60s, as well as political and social issues, to further its story. From what the trailers showcased, I expected something more like ‘That Thing You Do!‘, which chronicled the rise and fall of a local band through fame and fortune. That’s not the case. Instead, we get something more about growing up in turbulent times and dealing with change. By all means, Chase has made a solid film, but one not without some flaws.
‘Not Fade Away‘ takes its title from songs made famous by the Rolling Stones and Buddy Holly. It attempts to capture the major changes that happened in the ’60s with music and the Civil Rights movements, which Chase showcases perfectly. I’d imagine that anyone alive during those times can relate in some way to the characters. One of the things I really enjoyed is the film’s use of pop culture, in the form of music, movies and television. Our characters search for themselves not just by the changing social and political climate of the time, but by the music of the Kinks and the Rolling Stones, and the hit TV series ‘The Twilight Zone‘.
We center on 18-year-old Douglas (John Magaro), who is virtually ignored by the girls at school and forms a band with his friends Gene (Jack Huston) and Wells (Will Brill). They play covers of rock and blues songs for their friend’s parties. Douglas, the drummer, has to take over the role of lead vocals after their singer swallows a lit joint, thus proving Douglas’ better vocal skills. The band’s ultimate goal is to play music for a living, however that proves problematic when some members go off to college and some work steady jobs.
Not only do we see the internal struggles of the band, we also get a glimpse of Douglas’ home life, which seems to be a stereotypical middle class family. His parents are having problems with their son wanting to be an artist. The father, Pat (James Gandolfini), constantly tells his son that he looks like he “just got off the boat,” after Douglas changes his style by wearing a pea coat and heeled boots with a long curly hairdo, reminiscent of a young Bob Dylan. His mother (Molly Price) doesn’t have a positive bone in her body, and always finds the worst in every situation. This all comes to a head at an awkward family dinner.
When Pat is diagnosed with cancer, he brings his son in closer, since he’ll be the head of the household soon. Pat tells him of his own life regrets in hopes that his son will pursue his artistic side, a thing he wasn’t able to do himself. This pushes Douglas forward into discovering what he wants to be. We also get a look inside of Douglas’ relationship with his girlfriend Grace (Bella Heathcote) and her upper class Conservative family, who are dealing with another schizophrenic daughter and a fear of change.
What’s difficult to fall in love with about ‘Not Fade Away‘ is that its scenes don’t really have endings, and the film lacks a cohesive overall story. It feels like there are no complete scenes in the movie, just short bits of scenes all pulled together. I’ll admit that this is a unique method to tell the story, and it’s a fresh way to move characters towards an ending, but the film leaves too many things untouched and without resolution. The characters, on the other hand, are all perfectly molded, in which we see their strengths and weaknesses growing up in the ’60s.
The acting by Magaro and Heathcote is great and really captures the audience’s sympathies. Gandolfini seems to reprise his role as Tony Soprano, but without the Mafia ties, which I guess is good. The period look of the film itself is spot-on and can be compared to the set design and direction of ‘Mad Men‘ on AMC. Those of you who grew up in this time may feel like you’re having a flashback. If you’re looking for a light-hearted film about a band making it big, this is not the movie for you. Nonetheless, despite its gloomy tone and bizarre storytelling, ‘Not Fade Away‘ should be enjoyed by music lovers and 1960s enthusiasts.
I work with John Magaro’s cousin. 🙂
That’s awesome. I liked him in Liberal Arts.