Closely resembling other and much better films about rock bands and the abrupt cultural shifts of the 1960s, David Chase's “Not Fade Away” conveys the excitement and electric energy of discovering life-changing music, but then extinguishes its own fire by centering on stock characters and an arbitrary, even confounding storytelling perspective. Unlike its Buddy Holly-derived title, “Not Fade Away” drifts and ultimately disappears. The occupied American teenage citizens of the 1960s deserve a better chronicle of their life under British Invasion rule.
Chase, the creator of “The Sopranos,” based at least some of the story of Douglas Damiano (John Magaro) on his own teenage years in New Jersey. Douglas starts out as a drummer playing marginally competent surf-rock, but The Beatles and The Rolling Stones change his notions of what a rock 'n' roll band can be. The Stones are particularly important — the idea that skinny guys with bad skin could become rock stars is hugely liberating for Damiano and his bandmates. Chase even inserts a convincing dramatic depiction of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger's fateful 1961 train ride to drive home the band's significance for boys like Damiano.
The emergence of key artists, important historical signifiers and the expanding circumference of Damiano's hair all set the time and place for “Not Fade Away” — Damiano starts to resemble Bob Dylan circa “Don't Look Back” as guitarist Wells (Will Brill) picks up a chiming Rickenbacker guitar and the band starts to sound like the Byrds. Damiano's girlfriend Grace (Bella Heathcote) becomes the mouthpiece for the sexual revolution while Damiano's suburban working-class parents (James Gandolfini and Molly Price) serve as the voice of the frustrated post-WWII traditionalists forced to witness the end of their era.
Chase tries to wedge too much of the 1960s into these people's lives, which means they are one-dimensional reflections of a much larger story. Chase and his music supervisor, Miami Steve Van Zandt of The E Street Band and “The Sopranos,” pour a lot into the film's music and create both realistic cover versions and some solid original songs, but the story of the band never builds beyond some rote rock band mythology tropes, including interpersonal fighting, love triangles, breakups and a pivotal near-tragedy that echoes Dylan's history. Chase ends the film on an arbitrary and unsatisfying note, and “Not Fade Away” fades away like a morose, less energetic “That Thing You Do” with less to say about what it means to not really make it in rock 'n' roll.
— George Lang
‘Not Fade Away'
Starring: John Magaro, Will Brill, James Gandolfini, Molly Price, Bella Heathcote.
(Pervasive language, some drug use and sexual content)
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