Paramount / 112 Minutes / 2012 / Rated R / Street Date: April 30, 2013
It’s impossible to temper expectations for Not Fade Away because the echo of that bravura last shot of The Sopranos is still reverberating through the halls of mainstream media. Yeah, the series itself was a classic, but the knee-to-the-crotch thud of that final cut to black proves without question that David Chase knows what the hell he’s doing. Yet Not Fade Away, his first feature-length film, was all but ignored upon its release late last year. Why?
Well, to be perfectly frank, while it has some well-worn hallmarks of an Almost Famous-esque coming of age story with a second-to-none compilation of background rock and roll as its soundtrack (also akin to Cameron Crowe’s signature film), Not Fade Away is a painfully simplistic romance that never gets around to finding a narrative stasis. Chase’s melodrama has its heart in the right place, but there’s a leaden blankness to the movie’s central story that woefully keeps it from getting up to speed.
Douglas (John Magaro) is in a band, man, and the boys try to make it work. But they soon learn that it can’t be rock and roll all night and parties every day: Douglas has to deal with the realities of his love/hate college experience, and relations with dad (James Gandolfini) go from bad to worse. Luckily, as there is in any respectable rock story, there’s a bright young thing (Bella Heathcote) who both serves as muse for Douglas and also provides shelter from the storms of his tumultuous existence.
Aside from a killer soundtrack, though, Not Fade Away is a paper-thin love note to the music that clearly inspired Chase. There are occasional retro sweet spots in the film that hint at a “Remember when?” rose-tinted nostalgic magic, but Chase lets himself get way too caught up in the minutiae of his characters’ interactions. The Sopranos was a story both expansive and introspective, but that duality is lost here: its B-side is all right, but the single needs work.