David Chase has gone from “The Sopranos” to taking a sixties-rock nostalgia trip with “Not Fade Away.” It’s a film that knows its subject well enough, and even has E-Street Band member Steven Van Zandt to help pick the bluesy rock-infused soundtrack. And yet I don’t know what I’m supposed to take away from the band focused on here.
Doug (John Magaro) is a New Jersey kid inspired by The Rolling Stones, and girls, to start a band with his friends. Chase’s film is familiar-looking but it would be hard to deny the fact that whether you’re talking about music or even movies, these things have a transformative power, especially when you’re young. Doug attends college, changes his hair and clothes into something Bob Dylanesque, and through some freak accident becomes the band’s lead singer. He also comes off like some narcissistic beatnik and goes through all the clichés of being in a band, from the creative disputes with the lead guitarist (Jack Huston), the thick blue-collar father (James Gandolfini) who thinks the hair and the clothes make him look queer, and the girlfriend (Bella Heathcote) who it turns out is really more of a groupie. This movie makes it easy to understand seeing music as a lifestyle, with the clothes, the hair, the attitude, the fact that it makes you even less like your parents, as well as the allure of the dream that maybe you can one day make it to the main stage.
But since were told from the opening scene that were not supposed to root for these characters, all we really have is their delusion of achieving fame to hang on to. And the film is too long for that to really sustain the whole thing. It has moments that are funny (Gandolfini taking one look at Doug’s new rock clothes and saying it looks like he just got off the boat at Ellis Island) and moments that reflect the time period (talk of JFK’s assassination, Vietnam, and Martin Luther King’s civil rights marches) but mostly this just feels like moments and not a compelling and cohesive narrative.
Magaro shows enthusiasm as Doug, Huston (Richard Harrow on “Boardwalk Empire”) is solid as the band’s troublesome member, and Gandolfini gets another blue-collar role that he could do in his sleep. “Not Fade Away” is about the power music has on the young, but you just wish the movie gave the young in this movie some purpose.
SEE ALSO: Sam Weisberg’s review from the New York Film Festival.