By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Three Beers) –
A group of high school youths in the suburbs of New Jersey put together a band, and struggle to find success. As they gain some local popularity they find breaking big to be difficult business. Meanwhile, band drummer and sometimes-singer Douglas (Joe Magaro) struggles with his family, who have trouble accepting his chosen path. Life seems to always get in the way of progress, and New Jersey isn’t the scene for discoveries.
Unless you’re discovering syphilis
Not Fade Away deals quite admirably with its coming of age concept, neither glamorizing youth, nor declaring it to be any worse than it is. Growing up is a stage of life everyone goes through, where simple thinking is challenged, and idealism defeated for the first time. It is where dreams go to be born, to burn brightly for a short while, and (for most of us) the dreams die a violent death. However, a small percentage of us make it through youth without allowing cynicism to kill their aspirations, even in the face of unrelenting adversity. Enter Douglas; the main character of Not Fade Away. Douglas is obsessed with the rock and roll dream, and possesses a unique voice, and some songwriting talent. As his family pulls away from him, and support from his friends, and even fellow band members begin to wither, he holds on to his dreams. It is up to the audience to decide whether he’s chasing a fantasy. However impossible it must be though, it is made clear that this fantasy is worth it.
That is unless you’re not a fan of Bad Company…
Or the Kinks…
Director David Chase presents this in a dynamic style that lives somewhere between fly-on-the-wall documentary and conventional drama. Cinematographer Eigil Bryld manages some beautiful shots as well, sometimes framed in such a way that recalls classic album covers, without directly quoting from them. (The final sequence alone is worth it for camera buffs).
The side-plot involving Douglas’ father (played by James Gandolfini) felt fairly unexceptional for this sort of movie. While Gandolfini definitely gives his all, it still can’t help but feel like a very ordinary plot twist to have the disapproving father character. These scenes dominate a good amount of screen time and move the film closer to soap-opera territory.
Ultimately, the biggest flaw is the lack of character development. Other than the main character Douglas and his father, we never really get a feel for the motivations of his friends and family. As a result they often feel like window-dressing, and as they pass in and out of the story, it inspires very little emotion. With a little more time spent getting to know these people, it might have come off stronger.
An imperfect, but often engrossing statement on the Rock and Roll dream
Take a Drink: for every classic-rock icon name dropped
Take a Drink: when James Gandolfini disapproves of something
Do a Shot: for the fourth wall breaking final scene.