Dir. David Chase
(2012, R, 112 minutes)
Not Fade Away is the first feature film by David Chase, though it would be tough to call it a debut. His screen legacy is already secured by his creation of The Sopranos on HBO, and he seems confident following the end of that series. This film is not self-conscious; it feels neither like an attempt to capitalize on The Sopranos nor an attempt to escape it. It simply is what it is: a New Jersey-set coming-of-age story about a boy who forms a rock band in the 1960s, with dreams of being the next Beatles or Rolling Stones.
The boy is Douglas (John Magaro). His disapproving father is played by Sopranos star James Gandolfini. They have a familiar generational conflict. Douglas is a teenager during a pivotal cultural shift marked by rock and roll, Vietnam, and the sexual revolution. A similar dynamic is evident among their neighbors. Douglas’s high-school crush (Bella Heathcote) has a free-spirited sister (Dominique McElligott) whose rebellious behavior is even more drastically opposed by her own traditionalist father (Christopher McDonald).
The film is as much about that generational schism as it is about music, of which there is a lot. Serving as musical director for the film was Steve Van Zandt, another Sopranos alum and a member of the E Street Band. The young cast covers a number of rock and roll classics well, and the film is worth seeing if for no other reason than that. By the time I was born, the MTV era had already begun, and though music has always been a part of my life, there’s something about not only the music of that period but the culture surrounding it that can’t be replicated in the age of iTunes.
The film’s primary shortcoming is its tendency to wander, much the way its protagonist does – in an out of relationships, in and out of his commitment to the band. As a result, the screenplay introduces a lot of conflict but doesn’t achieve much story development, and it ends on a note that feels like Chase was unsure what note to end on. The film is occasionally narrated by Douglas’s younger sister (Meg Guzulescu), who begins the film as if she is telling his story from her point of view, but she’s not privy to much of his story, so that device is unable to hold all of the film’s disparate elements together.
It’s best viewed as a cross-section of time, the lives of parents and children in a particular neighborhood who reflected the greater changes around them, changes in how the prevailing views on art, responsibility, and adulthood shifted. To some it was a threat to civilized life. To others it was only rock and roll, and they liked it.