Starring: John Magaro, Jack Huston, Will Brill
Written by: David Chase (debut)
Directed by: David Chase (debut)
After 30 years in the television business and monumental success as the creator and mastermind behind “The Sopranos,” writer/director David Chase makes his feature film debut with “Not Fade Away,” an uneven coming-of-age story told in the world of rock ‘n’ roll.
Set in New Jersey in the 1960’s, “Not Fade Away” tells the story of a group of friends led by Douglas (John Magaro) who form a rock band and try to make it big. In the lead role, the somewhat unknown Magaro, at age 29, is remarkably able to capture the youth of a late teen. Though it is helped by the general look of the ‘60s, Magaro also captures the rebellious attitude of a teenager/early adult of the era. None of the supporting performances truly stand out, except for that of James Gandolfini who is solid as Magaro’s strict father.
One thing that Chase gets right in “Not Fade Away” is the overall feel of the 60’s. The dress, the cars, the attitudes all come through as well as seeing major events through Chase’s lens, like the effects of Beatlemania and the Kennedy Assassination. Additionally, Chase nails just about everything musical in the film. It’s loaded with classic 60’s rock with an omnipresence of Rolling Stones tunes both from the band itself and covers from the fictional band within the film. The scenes in which the band in the film rehearse, perform or take part in the song writing process are very easily the best part of the picture.
Unfortunately, the film falters almost everywhere else. If there is an overarching theme of the problems with “Not Fade Away” it would be an overall lack of resolution. The storyline, in a general sense, is about a band trying to make it big and a typical coming-of-age film. However, “Not Fade Away” doesn’t provide much beyond simply driving the narrative forward, as plot lines seem to ultimately not matter. Some are even quickly abandoned. Similarly, Chase leaves very little room for character development. There are many instances of events happening to characters followed by their disappearance from the movie altogether.
Overall, “Not Fade Away” lacks a certain touch. The narrative is clunky, scenes end at strange times and there are inexplicable and seemingly random jumps in time. What could have ended up being a nostalgic coming-of-age rock ‘n’roll tale ends up being a film marred with undeveloped plot lines, choppy editing and a serious lack of direction. As a love-letter to ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll, Chase is sincere, thoughtful and at times impressive. As a complete film, however, he leaves plenty to be desired.