Not Fade Away is David Chase’s first foray into feature films. He is well known as the creator, writer, and occasional director of HBO’s The Sopranos. David Chase wrote and directed Not Fade Away, so I can assume that the subject of the 1960s and rock and roll is something that he is passionate about.
Not Fade Away focuses on Douglas (John Magaro) who is in high school and is a little shy and geeky. Rock and roll, as well as the drums, enters his world, and he gains more confidence and the girls start to notice him. Douglas’ friends turned bandmates include Eugene (Jack Huston), Wells (Will Brill), and Joe (Brahm Vaccarella). They are determined to make it out of doing gigs in friends’ basements and make it like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Douglas’ father, Pat (James Gandolfini), is not too thrilled with the path Douglas is taking, especially when he works six days a week at Pep Boys to provide for his family and an irritating case of psoriasis. Douglas also has a bad crush on Grace (Bella Heathcote) even though she appears to be out of his reach and barely notices him.
Things turn in Douglas’ favor when he goes off to college, grows his hair out, and starts dressing like “he just stepped off the boat.” During breaks from school, Douglas finally catches Grace’s eye when he steps in as lead vocals when Eugene inhales a whole marijuana joint down his throat.
The film relies heavily on the music of the 1960s, showing how it evolved in only a few years. The band is mostly known for covers, but Douglas pulls for them to start playing their own original songs. The trends in music and the rock and roll stars influence the lives of Douglas, Wells, Eugene, and Joe. Most noticeably are the haircuts, especially when The Beatles appear. Like with any band, these guys have their own set of troubles, mostly revolving around Eugene who wants the attention that a lead singer attracts and is willing to pull some stunts to get the attention. Curiously, he is the only one that looks remotely attractive, but this is not coming from a woman of the 1960s.
The story mostly focuses on Douglas, but spends time with Grace’s eccentric family and also on Douglas’ family as well. I say mostly because the film tended to meander into other characters’ lives. It somewhat loses focus because of this, but the film could have been not as interesting if it had just focused on Douglas.
Not Fade Away has quite the cast with the most recognizable being James Gandolfini. He still comes across as the boss and the man of the house, just less terrifying than in The Sopranos. He is sometimes the comic relief and what he sacrifices for his family makes him endearing. Molly Price plays Douglas’ mom, Antoinette, and for awhile, I never thought she would make an appearance without curlers. She probably gets the most laughs than anyone in the cast as she plays the uptight, always worrying and complaining, Italian mother. She is perfect.
John Magaro has been in quite a few films, but not as the star of mainstream feature film. He carries the film well, and I wonder if he learned to play any of the instruments for the film. Jack Huston took me a few scenes to figure out who he was. Considering he is about 30 years old in this film, starting off playing a high school kid, he does well. He comes off as the more mature high school kid that everyone wanted to hang out with and date. The hairstyles help him look younger, and I would not be surprised if he lost some weight and muscle to come across younger. He is the troublemaker and screw up. I only heard his American accent slip a couple of times in one scene.
If you have watched The Sopranos, you might be familiar with the confusing, non-ending of the final episode. I have a feeling that David Chase is trying to screw with us again. *Possible spoiler* The film ends with this meandering Douglas on the streets and his sister ending the narrative that she has provided from the beginning of the film in a very interesting way. Don’t be surprised if you utter a couple of curse words and end the film with a look of confusion on your face. That may have happened in my screening. It is an ending that does not serve any perceivable purpose, and it leaves the audience with a sour note in an otherwise quite enjoyable film. It stops you in your tracks. Why David Chase? Why? The beginning of the film is a little odd as well, so this may be a case of foreshadowing that the ending might be like that also.
Not Fade Away is an enjoyable film that unfortunately has an ending that derails any feelings of “Hey, this is actually a good film.” The music of the 1960s provides a great soundtrack. Audience members who grew up in that era may enjoy the film more than those who were not born yet. David Chase plays the nostalgia card pretty heavily, and it is clear that he loves this time and this music. Too bad the ending is confusing enough to be the only thing people are going to discuss after seeing the film. Maybe that is the point?
I give Not Fade Away 3 “lemon juice containers” out of 5.
by Sarah Ksiazek