Not Fade Away: Rated “R” (112 Minutes)
Starring: John Magaro, Jack Huston, Will Brill, Brad Garrett, James Gandolfini
Directed by: David Chase
Coming of age stories are a dime a dozen, However, one that is set in the early 1960s — even thought it essentially has all of the elements of a one of these classic teen tales — has something of a different mix to it. The reason for this is the that ’64 is the year that the Rolling Stones and the Beatles appear on television, and the whole world seemed different. At least that is the way it seemed for three best friends from the suburbs of New Jersey who decide to form a rock band. The three lads; Douglas (Magaro), Eugene (Huston), and Wells (Brill) all inspired by the Beatles and the Stones do the whole, “Hey, let’s form a band and get famous.” thing (as if it was that easy). Then they go through a number of years of personality clashes, music and girlfriend issues as they each try to find their own way in the world.
The film offers up an often painfully intimate portrait of what it was like to come of age in that time in that place, serving up with its pathos a thoroughly watchable story that is both somber and funny as we watch these young men go through their lives learning about the world around them. Always through the background we are treated to iconic images from TV of various musical acts as they hit the airwaves. Also interspersed with the action are other images and references from that time, Twilight zone episodes, Dr. Martin Luther King, the Kennedy brothers, the Dean Martin show, etc.
The boys in the band struggle with their new-found freedoms, changing sexual mores, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes (there is so much on-screen smoking that we’re surprised anyone survived the shoot unscathed), “fame,” and of course, each other. They struggle with who should sing lead, if they should write new music or play cover tunes, stay in Jersey or move to the Village, all the while trying to keep their vision of who they are as individuals and a handle on their “art.”
Mostly we follow Douglas as he deals with his own family, his very blue color father (Gandolfini) his proto-suburban mother (a housewife who spent much of her on-screen time in a housecoat whit her hair up in curlers complaining that he husband worked too much and they didn’t have as much money as her sister, and saying things like “Oh I should slit my wrists” when her husband and son butted heads). Yes, this is exactly how this writer remembers that time period (save for the drugs, alcohol, and sex) making this a very worthy film to watch. (Unavoidable aside, and potential spoiler, the film winds up with a most unusual ending the simply catapults it in to a new strata of how director David Chase has chosen to end projects.)
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing films for some 30 years. During that time, his movie reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web.