Review: Not Fade Away
PLOT: In the mid-sixties, a group of suburban New Jersey teens try to make it big as a rock band. One of them, Douglas (John Magaro) battles with his cantankerous father (James Gandolfini) while pursuing the girl (Bella Heathcote) of his dreams.
REVIEW: NOT FADE AWAY is THE SOPRANOS mastermind David Chase's first foray at movie-making. Like THE SOPRANOS, NOT FADE AWAY is a New Jersey family saga, albeit this time, instead of being set amid the violent mob underworld, NOT FADE AWAY is juxtaposed against the landscape of the sixties, specifically the coming-of-age of rock n'roll. Imagine a grittier THAT THING YOU DO!, where the band doesn't even come close to making it, and you have a bit of an idea of what this is.
One thing that needs to be emphasized is that Chase's focus is always on the music, and never really on the characters- which is something that will probably turn off a huge chunk of the audience, but to aficionados of the time- such as myself, it's a huge plus. As a result, Chase essentially ditches the three-act structure, making this more akin to the sixties art-films his protagonist goes to see in theaters (like Antonioni's BLOW UP).
Truthfully, I was never overly invested in Douglas' story, nor that of any of his band mates save for a scene-stealing Jack Huston, as the band's first lead singer, who ends up getting the limelight stolen when he has to leave a performance after swallowing a lit joint. It's not that Magaro (who resembles and sounds like a young Bob Dylan) isn't good- he's fine, but he doesn't really have a strong screen presence in the way that maybe the film needed if we were meant to really connect emotionally with the story it's telling. James Gandolfini, as Douglas' old-school Italian father is great, but not enough time is spent with him to really make us care about him, or his relationship with his son.
Like many other reviewers, I think NOT FADE AWAY would have worked a whole lot better as a TV series, where Chase would have time to establish characters AMID the sweeping changes in society in music. Here, they seem to be competing for screen time with vintage footage, and superbly chosen (by music supervisor Steven Van Zandt) rock, and r n'b tracks. As a TV show, NOT FADE AWAY probably would have become one of the best things on TV. As a film, it feels too elliptical. Once a certain storyline starts to grab hold, Chase quickly moves on to something else, or allows important things (such as the entirety of Douglas' college experience- which goes on for years) happen off-screen.
Still, even as a two hour film, NOT FADE AWAY still works, especially if you like the music. After reading about Chase's life, it seems a lot of the film was autobiographical, but he pulls no punches as to the ultimate selfishness of his characters, including a hilariously abrupt, but true-to-life ending that offers no resolution whatsoever- another thing that would have worked a lot better on TV with a Season 2 just around the corner.
I guess if the worst thing I can say about NOT FADE AWAY was that I wanted more (a lot more) it must mean that whatever actually is onscreen is pretty good. On the whole, I really enjoyed the film, even if the lack of any kind of traditional story structure or resolution is going to limit it's audience. For people with patience for something a little different (it helps if you're a sixties devotee) NOT FADE AWAY is really worth checking out. But- I'd still like to see season 2.