Over the holidays I spent most of my time either at the mall shopping or on the couch watching TV DVDs. In addition to finishing the fourth season of “West Wing” and the entire first season of “Homeland,” I began to watch the first season of “The Sopranos, created by David Chase.” I’ve only seen the first half of its premiere season, but it’s quickly becoming one of my top TV shows. To say it’s good TV would undermine its complexity and cultural influence. So when I went to see “Not Fade Away,” which was written and directed by David Chase, my expectations were somewhat high. Unlike “The Sopranos” though, Chase’s feature film debut left me unsatisfied and quite frankly, annoyed.
Set in New Jersey in the 1960’s, “Not Fade Away” feels like a semi-autobiographical portrait of Chase’s young adulthood. Douglas (John Magaro) is a 17-year-old square. Eager to reinvent himself and impress Grace (Bella Heathcote), a girl from his high school, he joins a fledgling rock band with his friends Eugene (Jack Huston) and Wells (Will Brill). It doesn’t take long for Doug to adopt a pseudo rock ‘n’ roll persona. He grows his hair long and copies Bob Dylan’s eccentric style, much to the dismay of his old-fashioned father Pat (James Gandolfini). While dealing with his father’s disapproval, Douglas and his bandmates must overcome internal conflicts and bruised egos.
The editing in “Not Fade Away” is one of the many things I didn’t like about this movie. For the first half of the film, we’re never given a segue way to the next scene. This would be fine if the movie took place in a short period of time, but it doesn’t. The movie spans a few years, so the disjointed editing makes it hard to keep track of the characters’ arcs.
But the editing isn’t the main reason why I didn’t enjoy “Not Fade Away.” Chase created some of the most irritating, repulsive characters I’ve seen on-screen, with Doug being the worst. His desire to become as famous as The Beatles or The Rolling Stones is understandable, but he goes about it in such an unlikeable way. He treats Grace, now his girlfriend, merely as his groupie.
The relationship between Douglas and his father is nothing we haven’t already seen in other coming-of-age tales. They can’t relate to one another, and they don’t want to. However, Pat is not without his own vices. He’s a blue-collar bigot and offers up no apology for his beliefs. Even though Doug and Pat are the antithesis of each other, they’re still able to forge some connection. After being diagnosed with cancer, Pat takes Doug out to lunch. There, Pat puts Douglas in charge of taking care of the family once he dies. To me, this is an empty gesture. It’s Pat’s last attempt at getting through to his son, even though they both know that music is Doug’s first and only priority.
On my way out of the theatre, I overheard a few people criticize the movie’s open-ended conclusion. But this didn’t bother me as much as the peculiar go-go dancing that takes place at the very end. And even though “Not Fade Away” may turn out to be one of my least favorite films of 2013, I’ll always have “The Sopranos.”
Catch Mike’s review.