1960s coming of age memoir concerns three best friends from New Jersey who decide to form a rock band. Television writer-director David Chase is best known for creating the influential and critically acclaimed HBO drama The Sopranos. Here he makes his feature film début after having worked in television for 30 years.
Not Fade Away is somewhat hampered by a collection of characters that are hard to like. Our script focuses on an Italian-American adolescent named Doug growing up beginning in the year 1964. It affirms the evolutions in music that began with the British invasion of groups like the Beatles and more importantly in this story, the Rolling Stones. That musical onslaught also heralded a transformation in fashion and hairstyles which our young star adopts as he becomes the lead singer of a teenage rock and roll band called the “The Twylight Zones”. He is a good singer, but he is an uninteresting shell of a protagonist. He constantly mopes in a sullen disposition. I don’t recall him ever having smiled once in the entire film. He’s bland too. Ditto his inexplicably too-pretty-for him girlfriend played by Bella Heathcote. The Twiggy-eyed Australian is an unearthly beauty at least, but she was more appealing in Dark Shadows.
Douglas lives with his insufferable parents – a father with the standard-issue intolerance for social change and a perpetually distraught mother who overreacts to everything: ‘Why me, God?’ Douglas’ initial desire to join the army diminishes as he gets caught up in the artistic movement. Needless to say his dream to start a band doesn’t sit too well with his father who constantly challenges his son’s choices in life. Challenges is too nice a word – bullies is better – he’s really overbearing. Douglas fights with his parents, he fights with his band mates, he fights with his girlfriend. For a movie supposedly portraying the unbridled abandon of rock and roll, this is kind of depressing.
Not Fade Away is a trip through the 60s of various clichés. The rock and roll tale is highlighted by some rousing musical numbers and nice period detail. Unfortunately the chronicle isn’t particular innovative. It’s liberally sprinkles in 60s buzzwords like JFK, the Summer of Love, sexual revolution, civil rights, Vietnam, and Martin Luther King with the depth of someone who skimmed a Wikipedia article on the subject. You’ve seen this before. It’s trivial observations on the life of a teen interested in starting a band is rather generic right down to the disapproval of his reactionary parents. The memoir is unfulfilling. It has its moments, but the narrative kind of meanders with little regard toward the attributes of a plot. Events just occur lacking a traditional story that should rise to a climax and then fall to a satisfying dénouement. That’s the only thing about this hackneyed drama that didn’t follow the rules.