NOT FADE AWAY (2013) – The Review
Ah, the lure of sweet, sweet nostalgia. Television has been lured many times by her siren call with “Happy Days”, “The Wonder Years”, and “Mad Men”. Several film directors have indulged in this desire to return to simpler times (usually in their own younger years) from George Lucas’s AMERICAN GRAFFITI and Woody Allen’s RADIO DAYS. Although it should be noted that Allen had his biggest box office success with 2011′s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, which could be considered an anti-nostalgia flick (turns out that the people from the era you longed for also longed for an earlier time). Now TV mastermind David Chase, creator of “The Sopranos”, follows Lucas in returning to the golden 60′s in his feature film directing debut NOT FADE AWAY. Music played a major role in the 1973 classic about California cruisers and music factors into Chase’s story of East Coast pals. But instead of listening to tunes on their AM radios, AWAY’s teens are hoping to strike it big making their own music. And their passion isn’t ignited by stateside idols like Buddy Holly and Elvis. They’re inspired by a couple of lads from across the pond who are still at it today because they know it’s only rock ‘n’ roll, but they like it.
The film opens with a black and white sequence of teenage Mick Jagger and Keith Richards conversing about music while riding the “tube”. Cut to color, suburban New York state 1962. Douglas (John Magaro) and high school buddy Wells (Will Brill) decide they should form a band. They’re impressed by the British Invasion (particularly those lads from the first scene) and the adoration the music inspires from the ladies. Douglas really wants to impress the beautiful Grace (Bella Heathcote) who’s a part of the “moneyed” set (as opposed to Douglas’s lower middle class digs). The film follows Douglas as he clashes with his blue collar parents (James Gandolfini and Molly Price), conflicts in their band, the “Lord Byrons” (Eugene played by Jack Huston is a real loose cannon), and tags along with Grace to college (while considering film studies in LA).
Luckily Chase has brought in his big TV gun, Gandolfini, to inject some life into this meandering trip down memory lane. Pappa Pat is a low rent version of Tony S. with a bit of Ralph Kramden and Archie Bunker tossed in. He really has no clue about his son! The clothes, the hair, the attitude (“You and me are gonna’ tangle!”)! Another tube vet, Brad Garrett, shows up for a cameo as a disinterested agent. Their scenes are much too brief. The bulk of the film rests with the young, mostly unknown cast who just aren’t very compelling (only Huston stands out with his deranged outbursts). The main problem may be the unfocused nature of the script. Several subplots seem to drift away (Grace’s free-spirited older sister, a family illness). The clouds of Vietnam and civil unrest loom, but quickly pass. Even the film’s narrator, Douglas’s kid sister, disappears until the flick’s final moments of forced whimsy. The movie does do a good job evoking the early sixties in hairstyles, fashions, cars, and TV clips ( a snippet from “The Hollywood Palace” with Dean Martin rolling his eyes after a song from The Rolling Stones is priceless). But oh, do they go overboard with the constant smoking (even worse than the recent HYDE PARK ON THE HUDSON)! Cough! Hack! And the switch in our hero’s interest from music to film is far too abrupt (when he gets to LA, Douglas has to meet “Twilight Zone” creator Rod Serling…yup, he’s the director’s alter ego!). If you really want a fun rock ‘n’ roll trek through the 1960′s, Tom Hanks’s directorial debut THAT THING YOU DO is still a great ride. Now that Chase has made this autobiographical feature, let’s hope he moves on to movie stories closer to his outstanding television efforts. As they’d say on “American Bandstand”, ” So-so beat. Tough to dance to.”. Or as we say here….
3 Out of 5 Stars