Movie Review: David Chase rounds up the music movie cliches for “Not Fade Away”

ImageAll those years David Chase was getting rich off his mob soap opera, “The Sopranos,” what he REALLY wanted to do was “get the band back together.”

“Not Fade Away, his big-screen writing and directing debut, is the cinematic equivalent of a “memory play,” an impressionistic recollection of the ‘60s, what it was like to discover rock’n roll, to emulate your rock heroes, to embrace weed, grow your hair and infuriate your parents with your college-bred concern for civil rights, the Vietnam War and pursuit of dreams over career.

The problem is, nobody told Chase his memories of the era have long been clichés.

Douglas (John Magaro) is a Jersey Boy, an Italian-American drummer who sees the older boys getting attention from girls at his high school talent show and joins a band. Jack Huston is Gene, the handsome guitar hero whose ambitions are as limited as his singing. Will Brill is Wells, the pseudo-intellectual of the ensemble, which never really has a name, though they kick around the idea of calling themselves The Lord Byrons in those early days, just after the Kennedy Assassination and the “British Invasion.”

They take their cues from The Rolling Stones, worshipping American blues. When they cover the movie’s Buddy Holly title song, they do it with “the Bo Diddley Beat,” in the manner of the Stones.

Chase’s film, narrated by Douglas’ younger sister (Meg Guzulescu), follows these guys through standard “Let’s start a band” mileposts –the first power struggle (Douglas becomes lead singer), defections and firings, countless gigs, recording a demo, meeting with a would-be manager (Brad Garrett). There’s a hint of college, and the coming-of-age off-and-on romance between Douglas and model-thin rich girl Grace (Bella Heathcoate).

The characters are thinly drawn, though the actors aren’t bad, and they really are singing and playing their instruments. Their one “original” song, a ringing imitation of The Byrds’ Roger McGuinn, feels utterly authentic. No, they never would have made it. And no, they’re the only ones who fail to realize that.

“Fade Away” is just as soap operatic as “Sopranos,” with Douglas’ parents (James Gandolfini and Molly Price) raging through a troubled marriage, Douglas learning of the girlfriend’s sexual past and Grace’s artistically rebellious sister Joy (Dominique McElligott) tumbling into drugs.

Gandolfini’s working class dad is forever threatening the kid, bellowing that with his sissy Cuban-heeled boots, loud clothes and long hair, “You look like you just got offa the boat.” The line resonates, so Chase has him repeat it – for years. Gandolfini has a great confessional scene, coming way too late in the narrative to make a difference.

The over-familiar narrative is delivered in episodic bites, jumping characters, settings and years. Douglas and Grace sit through the classic ‘60s film “Blow Up,” and the boy complains, “What kind of movie IS this?”

Precisely. “Not Fade Away” is an original, absurdly self-conscious take on a seriously unoriginal narrative. Overlong, ambitious, but sketchy, dated and jammed with incidents and F-bombs, you’d never guess it was from a guy who spent his working life in TV, where he had entire seasons to weave his melodrama .

Or that he somehow failed to realize this formula was well-past-played when Tom Hanks offered the superior “That Thing You Do” back in the last century.

(Interview with James Gandolfini is here)

MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, some drug use and sexual content

Cast: John Magaro, Will Brill, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcoate, James Gandolfini

Credits: Written and directed by David Chase. A Paramount Vantage release.

Running time: 1:48

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5 Responses to Movie Review: David Chase rounds up the music movie cliches for “Not Fade Away”

  1. PJ Morgan says:

    Note to said “top critic”–likely best to restrict your insightful criticism to film and not music. Your comment that “their (the movie’s young NJ band) one “original” song, a ringing imitation of The Byrds’ Roger McGuinn, feels utterly authentic” reveals more about your lack of musical knowledge than the fictional band’s lack of acumen. To clarify, the song you are referencing “St Valentine’s Day Massacre” is, in fact, an original song penned by the multi-talented Steve Van Zandt (the movie’s musical director/executive producer) and was a minor hit for Norway’s leading girl group “The Cocktail Slippers”. How you came to equate the tune with Roger McGuinn is, and I guess shall remain, a mystery.

    As for the rest of your critique, well, let’s just say that it’s about as accurate in it’s cinematic insight as it is in its musical perspicacity.

    Cute lead, though.

    • Uh, their “original” song — “in the movie.” Unfamiliar with the Norwegian pop “scene.” Had to describe it. It sounds like Little Steven getting into a ’60s Byrds vibe, which matches the movie’s era. Twangy. The song is forgettable, the movie even more so. So you know Little Steven’s entire catalog, backwards and forwards? Good for you, dear.
      And if you’re actually Little Steven posting under a nom de plume, get back to “Lillehammer.” That’s where we need you, babes.

  2. Pingback: Movie Nation Interview: James Gandolfini | Movie Nation

  3. You unfavourably compare “Not Fade Away” with “The Thing You Do” ……all I can remember about “That Thing You Do” is that it was produced by Tom Hanks otherwise a very lightweight piece of fluff unlike “Not Fade Away” a much deeper and better film. As someone who was “there” i would say it captures the zeitgeist of those times better than any other film I have seen to date. So you can shove your review!

    • See, why’d you have to go all Summer’s Eve, there, pal? Plainly the Jersey Shore crowd connected to that middling POS in a way those operating on a higher plane missed. Which is why most reviews agreed with mine. And with every bad to middling review, your whole belief system and your lack of cultivation, taste and class is told to “Shove it.” Ahem.

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