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Not Fade Away

2012 | 124 min | R | 1.85:1

Not Fade Away


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Movie appeal

Coming of age100%


Theatrical release date

 21 December, 2012

Country of origin

 United States

Box office




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Not Fade Away


Screenshots from Not Fade Away Blu-ray

Not Fade Away Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, October 23, 2012

Reviewed at the 2012 Twin Cities Film Fest

At its best, “Not Fade Away” is a phenomenal time machine, whisking viewers back to a time where music could honestly change the world, or at least America, where the kids were starving for a radical new direction in rock and roll. It’s a shame writer/director David Chase, the illustrious creator of “The Sopranos,” has done so little with the dramatic potential of the piece. While the details feel sufficiently lived-in, “Not Fade Away” is a weightless viewing experience with little in the way of riveting conflict and hypnotic musicianship. It’s a mute button movie, with the textures of the production worth all the attention Chase pays to them, while the rest of the effort slides around in a fog, waiting for inspiration that never arrives.

In 1963, New Jersey resident Doug (John Magaro) is hunting for direction to his life, uninterested in the collegiate future his father (James Gandolfini, playing the disciplinarian character exactly as imagined) has planned for him. Preparing for the end of high school, Doug weighs his chances with crush Grace (Bella Heathcoat) while taking in the stage presence of resident rocker, Gene (Jack Huston). When the Beatles explode in America, the community is flattened by the first wave of the British Invasion, with Doug realizing that the hard looks and bluesy shuffle of the Rolling Stones provide hope for a musical career. Teaming up with Gene, the pair forms a scattershot band that keeps Doug stifled behind a drum kit, watching his shot at fame slip away. When he decides to make a play for lead vocals, the group dynamic changes substantially, offering the boys a chance at a record contract. As the decade passes, Doug finds his dream just out of reach, testing the patience of those around him. There’s also a question of Grace, who’s become his girlfriend, drawn to Doug’s stage energy -- a groupie-like devotion the aspiring rocker doesn’t trust.

There’s no doubt that “Not Fade Away” is a personal movie for Chase, a longtime television guru making his feature-length filmmaking debut. There’s a coolness to the material that comes with familiarity, drinking in the nuances of the era, from claustrophobic households to the sweltering air of basement band performances, where Doug and the gang attempt to win over a league of teenagers hunting for rock heroes after Beatlemania has struck. It’s an amazing movie to study, poring over the particulars of 1960’s suburban decor, lax group interplay, routine domestic tension, and a fear of the future, finding the characters both enlivened and intimidated by the rough road ahead, trying to cling to their fantasies while pressures of Vietnam increase, along with the graduation to adulthood. Cinematographer Eigil Bryld, production designer Ford Wheeler, and costume designer Catherine Marie Thomas all deserve accolades for their memorable, textured efforts, giving Chase a wealth of period detail to play with, making “Not Fade Away” consistently interesting in a visual sense, without the exaggeration that plagues so many pictures about the 1960s.

In the end, the details are more impactful than the story of “Not Fade Away,” which puts forth a randomness with subplots, indulging Chase’s desire to fill out Doug’s world by following developments in his family life, including a cancer diagnosis with his father that’s handled with period-accurate bluntness. There’s also time spent with Grace’s sister and her collision into protest art, using plastic lemons to lash out at the world and her conservative father (Christopher McDonald). The asides distract from Doug’s rise to consciousness, which would be a greater sin if Chase brought something out Magaro, who gives a flaccid performance that doesn’t convince on an emotional level, while also failing to secure the character’s crucial front man appeal. His musical appreciation also registers as filmmaker puppetry due to actor’s habitual blankness. Band betrayals are equally feeble, offering a collection of musicians who appear oddly dispassionate about their ups and downs, contributing to the numbingly detached atmosphere of the picture.

There’s a soundtrack of blues and rock hits handpicked by Steve Van Zandt to flavor the picture, but what “Not Fade Away” is in need of is a screen energy that matches the musical journey of the decade. And for those who felt Chase bungled the final moments of “The Sopranos,” there’s also a distinct absence of closure to “Not Fade Away,” which goes for a bizarrely fanciful ending that’s uncharacteristic of the effort, while treating Grace with a closed fist when the rest of the script goes out of its way to understand how the lost child acquires her psychological fractures.

Perhaps Chase didn’t know where to position Doug for the conclusion, so he takes him nowhere, an apt place for this lounging look at a rock revolution, keeping the experience undefined and aimless, despite an era that always appeared to be pushing forward, through loud guitars and intense introspection. “Not Fade Away” has all the surface details down, yet it comes off indifferent to the electricity of the moment, leaving viewers with emptiness where jubilation and contemplation should reside.

Starring: John Magaro, James Gandolfini, Bella Heathcote, Jack Huston, Dominique McElligott, Brad Garrett
Director: David Chase

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