David Chase’s “Not Fade Away” is one of my favorite films of 2012, a heartfelt but clear-eyed look at what it’s like to be a teen-ager who falls in love with rock’n’roll.
More accurately, it examines what it felt like to be a teen in 1963, when the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and the rest of the British invasion crashed on to American shores and American radios. What did it feel like when the world changed – and you were one of those who wanted to help change it?
Chase, creator of “The Sopranos,” goes in a completely different direction with this personal little film. While there is sharp-edged humor and keen social observation in “Not Fade Away,” this isn’t a movie about charismatic characters climbing the charts and battling the odds. Rather, it’s a series of snapshots of the lives of a handful of New Jersey teenagers, as they plug in and tune up – with the music and with the times – in their quest to create a rock band.
At the center is Douglas (John Magaro), first spotted in the fall of 1963. In short order, John F. Kennedy has been assassinated – and a few weeks later, the Beatles began their conquest of America. Douglas is a would-be drummer who is invited to join a fledgling band by his pal Gene (Jack Huston), after Gene’s former band breaks up because the drummer enlisted in the Army and went to Vietnam.
Douglas has his eye on Grace (Bella Heathcote), a high-school classmate who never gives him a second look; she’s too busy flirting with the star athletes. But, eventually, Douglas moves from drums to lead singer in the band – and suddenly he’s cool enough for her.
Douglas and his group are convinced that all they need is the chance to be heard in New York and they’ll be on their way. They record a demo – a cover of the Young Rascals’ “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” – but realize that they probably need to start writing their own songs as well.
Meanwhile, both Douglas and Grace are dealing with tension at home. His father (James Gandolfini) runs his own small business and can’t figure out these kids, with their music and their long hair. When Douglas comes home from his first semester of college, his hair long, wearing a peacoat, his disgusted father explodes, telling him looks like he “just got off the boat.” Things get even rockier when Douglas starts bad-mouthing the war in Vietnam.
This review continues on my website.