[Review] – Not Fade Away

25 Dec

Not Fade Away

Title: Not Fade Away
Year: 2012
Director: David Chase
Writer: David Chase
Starring: John Magaro, Bella Heathcote, Will Brill, Jack Huston, Brad Garrett, James Gandolfini, Christopher McDonald
MPAA Rating: R, pervasive language, some drug use and sexual content
Runtime: 112 min
IMDb Rating: 5.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 79%
Metacritic: 68

David Chase is a man known mostly, of course, for his work on television. He worked on The Rockford Files and Northern Exposure, but of course he’ll be forever immortalized as the man who created The Sopranos. It really is hard to overstate the impact that series had on the current television landscape, being the biggest factor in having HBO become the absolute critical behemoth it still is, and really being the series that helped pave the way for the Golden Age of Television, without which shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad probably would have never come to fruition.

Throughout that impeccable 6-season run, which included 21 Emmy‘s and one of the most controversial endings in television history, every little aspect of the show was supervised by David Chase, the kind of showrunner that never compromised, giving you exactly what he wanted to give you with each episode, for good or bad. Well, now he’s making the jump from the small screen to the big one, delivering his feature-length writing/directing debut with Not Fade Away, a coming of age tale told through music basically, and, I guess unsurprisingly, the result is pretty damn good.

Also unsurprisingly, the film takes place in New Jersey, in the post-war 1960’s, and there we meet Douglas Damiano, the young, (unsurprisingly again) Italian-American musician who really wants that rock ‘n’ roll life. And that’s really what this is all about, seeing this character grow up through what happens to him as he chases his dream, how his band comes together, how they then subsequently have the inevitable fight. How Mr. Chase uses music as the backbone to his film, not only offering some really nice things to say about music itself, but using the whole gist of these guys wanting it but not being persistent enough to really get it, makes Not Fade Away feel utterly poignant.

I guess it is indeed easier to, as they say, write what you know, and Douglas is kind of like Mr. Chase in a way, this Italian-American kid who’s in a band who wants to make it big and then go to Hollywood to make movies. We see three key relationships of his, with Eugene, his band’s guitarist (played by Jack Huston, who’s the best part about HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, a show made by key creative personnel from The Sopranos) with whom he quarrels because Eugene is fine doing covers and Douglas wants to be like The Rolling Stones and do original songs; with Grace, played wonderfully by Bella Heathcote, as the kind of dream girl Douglas had a crush on but then he sees how different reality and expectations can be when he’s finally with her, a stormy relationship in which they adapt to the sexual revolution that was just happening; and with his father, played by (who else?) Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini.

So, yes, there’s obviously stuff in here that comes directly from Mr. Chase’s life, I have no doubt of that, but that’s just on the surface. Once you go deeper in Not Fade Away you’ll realize just how big a canvas he’s really painting on, the film tackling things from the assassination of JFK to the Beatles to the end of the hippie era, and how those social revolutions that were so important at the time came to influence an ordinary American family. Of course that kind of storyline we’ve all seen done before, but Mr. Chase’s take on it is so much better because it’s never mawkish or overly nostalgic.

Sure, the whole thing focusses on the “a change would eventually come” narrative beat that so many of these coming-of-age movies set during historical events use, but this never feels like it’s looking back on that time, it always feels very much grounded in a tangible reality. And I really liked that. Of course there are a couple of bits during which this falters, most directorial debuts (even from people who’ve been in the TV business for so long and with such success) have those, and you could indeed have a point by saying the middle part of the movie feels like it just meanders too much. The thing is, the positive far outweighs the negative here.

If you’re a music fan, by the way, you’re probably going to think like I did and love Not Fade Away. Because there’s just sheer knowledge about music on display here, and a love of it, and a precise representation of how so many teenagers feel about it, and how they feel like they can make their own perfect songs just because they like music, and how that doesn’t really happen most of the time. You add that fact, that the whole narrative is really driven by the transforming power of rock music, to how lovingly detailed the shots of these streets and basements Mr. Chase grew up in are, and you have this whole world to sink into and love.

By the way, when I say that this film acknowledges the harsh reality that faces these kids when they realize that most dreams don’t really become a reality I don’t mean this is a depressing kind of flick. The final act of it is decidedly darker and drives that notion home, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that Mr. Chase really creates a terrific portrait of those dreams and he honors them in the best way. The ending I guess comments on that whole notion of how reality can squash even the purest of dreams, but it does so in a way that’s just as abstract as the ending of The Sopranos, a super daring and abstract final scene that has us (and not him) answering the question of what’s next for these characters. Like with his tale of mobsters, though, it’s tough to see many good things coming to these rock ‘n’ roll kids.

Grade: A-

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