‘Not Fade Away’
Rated R for profanity, some sexual content and the depiction of drug use.
Its 1964, the Rolling Stones appear on television and three best friends from the suburbs of New Jersey decide to form a rock band. In ...
Rating: R for pervasive language, some drug use and sexual content
Length: 112 minutes
Released: December 21, 2012 Nationwide
Cast: John Magaro, Jack Huston, Will Brill, Brad Garrett, James Gandolfini
Director: David Chase
Writer: David Chase
Early in "Not Fade Away," the once familiar pulse that signaled a test of the Emergency Broadcast System leads directly to the famous opening guitar riff of the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." The threat of nuclear annihilation and the potential saving grace of rock and roll are linked again during a brief climactic monologue, delivered by a swaying teen on a nocturnal highway. The movie is about kids in the 1960s, negotiating a new kind of life informed by both possibilities.
"Not Fade Away" is a very enjoyable and kind of wonderful semi-autobiographical rock-and-roll coming-of-age tale from David Chase, the creator of "The Sopranos." The film is set in white suburban New Jersey, but this time James Gandolfini is a working stiff with a wife (Molly Price) in curlers and a son (John Magaro) in Beatle boots. The boy's increasingly long hair, pinko sentiments and unconventional wardrobe choices become sources of friction: "You want to wear Cuban heels," dad tells his heir, "go live in Cuba."
The movie is nostalgic and self-indulgent and generationally blatant: Seemingly every touchstone of the era is mentioned, as if we again need to be reminded of the assassination of JFK, the arrival of the Beatles, the debate over Vietnam, the freakout appeal of "The Twilight Zone," and the British Invasion's introduction of American music to American audiences. (As one young Jersey would-be rockers states: "How come the English knew all about the blues and we didn't, yet it was under our noses all the time?")
But the film's self-centeredness is apt, capturing something of the pretentiousness and solipsism of youth. Meanwhile, Chase's swing (a movie marquee advertises "The Pit and the Pendulum") between minutely observed, authentic detail (high school musicians teach themselves the Bo Diddley beat) and fourth-wall-breaking fantasy (a re-enactment of the fabled train-ride meeting of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards) keeps the energy level high.
The soundtrack heightens the impact. Typically, movies set in the 1960s make use of familiar second-tier oldies or aficionado-curated rarities, but music supervisor Steve Van Zant of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band apparently has the connection to pull in the heaviest of the heavy hitters: Yes, we hear from The Left Banke and Them, but also from Dylan, the Stones and the Beatles. Meanwhile, E Streeters Garry Tallent and Max Weinberg are among the musicians who join Van Zant in creating the garage rock supposedly played by the film's characters.
The Hit Parade success of the source music suggests "Not Fade Away" will be a rise-and-fall rock-and-roll story like "That Thing You Do!," but, convincingly, the band members here are too unreliable, immature and unmotivated to become even one-hit wonders. The most memorable and high-strung of these flash-in-the-Jersey-pan rockers is played by Jack Huston, known to "Boardwalk Empire" fans as Richard Harrow, the kind killer with half a face.
Like several seasons of "Mad Men" condensed into 112 minutes, "Not Fade Away" covers most of the 1960s as it follows young Douglas Damiano (Magaro) as he matures from an awkward, sexually inexperienced high schooler to a would-be rock-and-roller cool enough to date the town's most beautiful girl (Bella Heathcote) to a young man eager to get away but uncertain where to get to. Doug's increasing interest in cinema is fueled by viewings of Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil" and Antonioni's "Blow-Up," the latter of which elicits this review from our hero: "What kind of movie is this? Nothing happens."
Plenty happens in "Not Fade Away," perhaps too much; but as its title suggests, the movie — which I've now seen twice, the first time in November during its local debut at the Indie Memphis Film Festival — has stuck with me, and I'm eager to watch it again.
"Not Fade Away" is at the Paradiso and the Hollywood 20 Cinema.