Not Fade Away (2012) / Drama

MPAA rated: R for pervasive language, some drug use and sexual content
Length: 112 min.

Cast: John Magaro, Jack Huston, Will Brill, Bella Heathcote, James Gandolfini, Molly Price, Dominique McElligott, Christopher McDonald, Meg Guzulescu, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Brad Garrett
Director: David Chase
Screenplay: David Chase

Not Fade Away 2012John Magaro (The Box, The Life Before Her Eyes) gets the starring role as Douglas, a teen in 1960s New Jersey who decides to forego the plans he and his father Pat (Gandolfini, The Taking of Pelham 123) talk about in order to become a musician, following the lead of his idols like the Rolling Stones and many of the other bands who've revolutionized music with the British Invasion (the title refers to a Buddy Holly song the Stones covered to success).  His instrument: the drums, at least initially, though the girl he has a crush on, Grace (Heathcote, Dark Shadows), thinks he has the voice to make the band's success a reality.  As he proceeds further in his notion of being a musician, the more he becomes estranged by the father who thinks he's wasting his time not pursuing college, the military, or even a decent job. 

Not Fade Away is the brainchild of David Chase, the Emmy-winning producer of such shows as HBO's "The Sopranos" (which he would also write and direct) and TV shows like "Northern Exposure" and "The Rockford Files".  Unfortunately, what works for a television series, in which not everything needs to be set up or completed within the course of one episode, or even one season, just doesn't work for a film.  There are some nice ideas within the course of his first theatrically released work, but little of it gets a chance to gel, as we watch several years in the lives of ambitious youths in the 1960s who seem half-hearted in their efforts to make it big, until the film finally ends and we wonder just what to make of all of the loose ends that seem to be strewn about.

Douglas's love life with his groupie girlfriend Grace, his relationship with his father, his father's lymphoma, his musical career -- all issues that come up within the course of the movie, and closure comes for none of it.  Even taking the film as a coming-of-age story, or even as a slice of Americana, there's still a narrative focus missing that is vastly needed to bring a poignancy and thematic resonance to the piece as a whole, rather than just certain key scenes.  The only lasting theme is of the worth of Rock n' Roll to the lives of young Americans of the times, but that's nothing new in the world of movies, and other movies have done it better.

The music, with help from Steven Van Zandt (Christmas with the Kranks), is the highlight, but great tunes alone does not a good movie make.  Chase's script lacks focus, while his direction often lacks life, as nearly every shot is darkly lit and murky, and conversations lack that flow that brings forth interesting nuggets of insight to just what the purpose of the film actually is.  Outside of viewers who feel a strong attraction to the period, especially of the music of the times, there's little here for most audiences to find connection with.  Perhaps in the course of a television series, with each season bringing forward different things to the lives of the youths in a different year, such ideas could bear fruit.  In the course of a sub-2 hour film, it feels like a demo, showcasing the talent of everyone involved but far from a polished work worth releasing.
Qwipster's rating:  

©2013 Vince Leo