Set in small town New Jersey in the 1960s, Not Fade Away stars a band you’ve never heard of. Written and directed by David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, the film focuses on the life of rock wannabes – in other words, the remaining 90% of the people buying musical instruments.
The film did not have an auspicious run, released at the end of 2012 to reap less than 5% of its budget back. Perhaps this is due to a limited release or perhaps it’s due to the lack of big stars or that it’s not a docudrama or biopic. The film didn’t make money, is the point. But it’s a nice little film about trying to make it in an industry that thrives on glamour, about the rocky business of friendship/partnerships, about the politics of small town fame, and the classic division between art and profit. Our hero is Doug (John Magaro), an insignificant high school grad who comes from Italian immigrants that don’t cotton much to rock and roll. A series of happy accidents puts him in the drummer’s seat alongside his pals Wells (Will Brill) and Eugene (Jack Huston), the rhythm and lead guitarists in a band that is not going to be called The Lord Byrons.
What we have here is a coming of age story that is really more of a growing-into-and-out-of-a-petulant-rebel story. The timeline seems to speed up and slow down and by the end of the film I was confused that only three years had gone by (that’s showbiz for you).* The important thing is to come into this film without preconceptions of what you want it to be. Enjoying it purely as a slice of small town young adult life in the 1960s is key, and therein is its charm and limitation.
The relationship between Doug and his father (a testy James Gandolfini) simultaneously gives the film its best and most groan-worthy moments. The cultural divide between father and son is ripe with potential but falls into predictable and mostly unexplored plot beats. Son/father get along, son/father disagree over his clothing and lifestyle, son/father trade 1960s insults, son/father kind of have a heart to heart and son realizes he doesn’t really know his father. That’s about as deep as it goes and it would have been nice for this or any other relationship to go further.
Personally I have a love/hate relationship with slice of life films. I find that they represent reality much better than plot-driven movies but they also tend to wander and resolve without resolutions. Yes, that’s very much like real life. No, it’s not always what I’d prefer to see in my films (Chase even seems to comment on this when Doug and his girlfriend go to see a foreign film that lacks a plot or manipulative music). It’s the kind of movie that’s better for first time filmmakers to make and young adults to see. Beyond that we’re all better served by what comes next.
But if you like groovy period pieces and you’re wondering what suburban punks were doing while Don Draper was wetting his wick on Madison Avenue, queue up this flick and settle in for a sweet soundtrack. The final scene is adorable.
Rock & roll.
Not Fade Away (2012)
Directed by David Chase
*I watched this film and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone back to back, so I was momentarily thrown to see Brad Garrett show up in both of them as basically the same Hollywood agent character. This has led me to fervently hope that Brad Garrett continues to show up in films as this ageless representative – sort of the Richard Alpert of Tinsel Town.
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