Not Fade Away is one of those films that really depend on what you bring to it.
It's a personal experience - both for the writer/director David Chase and maybe for scattered audience members. It may leave the average audience uninvolved, but some will relive splinters of their youth.
Not Fade Away is a story set long ago - in another dimension. It's a trip back to a lost, awkward time in the 1960s when culture was breaking apart and generation gaps were family gulfs.
The British invasion of rock 'n' roll was upon America, and David Chase remembers the time with both fond and bitter memories.
Not Fade Away is Chase's story of Doug Damiano (John Magaro) growing up in New Jersey. Doug helps put together a band while struggling to find his own identity. They practice in a garage and have dreams and plans of a great future together.
In a public appearance, when the lead singer Eugene (Jack Huston) is indisposed, Doug takes over as lead singer, and before a rapt audience, croons a cover of the Stones' "Time Is On My Side." The band is fractured.
They undergo strife and transformation. Doug evolves to other ends. Like Chase himself, he is faced with leaving Jersey and his family. Maybe there's a world of high-pitched mobsters out there.
There are a lot of things with which I can relate in Not Fade Away, more than just the universal ones.
The world Doug lives in has a familiarity. If one knows Rod Serling and tv's The Twilight Zone, and Antonioni's movie Blow-Up (1966), and Orson Welles and Touch of Evil (1958), then Not Fade Away has something personal. They all have resonance in the movie - for some more than others.
I stood next to Rod Serling and chatted with him in the darkened bar of The Pine Club restaurant in Dayton, Ohio. Boy, did that man smoke.
I spoke at length with Charlton Heston about his experience with Welles on Touch of Evil. And an essay I did interpreting Blow-Up was one of my first published articles.
Not Fade Away is studded with enchanting relics from the 1960s.
Chase's movie is uneven, but has captivating strains. His recreation of disconnected families and friends has palpable reality.
The conclusion of Not Fade Away is blatant and odd, and may leave audiences shrugging. It's no Blow-Up, whose ending was ambiguous and reverberating. The ending of Not Fade Away obviously means more to Chase than it might to any audience member.
The cast generally is skillful, but at times their roles aren't fleshed out. Molly Price as Doug's mom has a thankless role, most of the time just standing glumly with an iron by her ironing board.
Dominique McElligott plays Joy, a Greenwich Village-type artist. Joy is just a one-dimensional symbol. When she's institutionalized by her family it's unconvincing and close to laughable.
Jack Huston is unable to call on any of the flair he gives to his character on tv's Boardwalk Empire. He's limited to portraying sullen ego as the band's original leader.
Most of the rest of the cast are more fortunate. John Magaro - reminiscent of Shia LaBeouf - has presence, and gives the young rocker a strong, but not-entirely-secure personality. Doug is both hesitant and gifted. He effectively strikes a familiar Dylanesque figure.
James Gandolfini has a few nice moments as Doug's working-class dad, who doesn't understand his wayward son. There's a touching scene in a restaurant between the very different father and son.
Bella Heathcote is evocative as the free spirited girl who weaves her spell around Doug.
My favorite film about a rocker and his band in New Jersey in the 1960s is Eddie and the Cruisers (1983).
David Chase had his New Jersey, and I had Somers Point.
We both were lucky.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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