Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Redbox Diaries #4: Not Fade Away

David Chase's Not Fade Away is the story of a forgotten and never-named 1960's band that feels emotionally honest about what it must have felt like to start a band in a place (suburban New Jersey) and time when soldiers from Vietnam were greeted as heroes. No protests here. Douglas (John Magaro) takes up the drums in the hope of meeting girls and eventually becomes singer of a garage band with aspirations to prove that rock music is an "art form." Chase's conceit is that the truth of rock's power lies in the blues of Blind Willie McTell, Leadbelly, and other and that the Beatles were lightweights. It is the Rolling Stones who are the true messengers, and the film begins with an imagined depiction of an early meeting between Jagger and Richards. The music in Not Fade Away is heavily tilted towards Douglas and his band mates covering blues standards, and it's a sad irony of the film that the band implodes (despite getting the nod from an insider played by Brad Garrett) just as Douglas discovers a knack for songwriting. Chase juxtaposes the musical advances that Douglas is making against his stifling home life, with an excellent James Gandolfini as a father who can only try to relate to his son from another time. It's in these domestic scenes that the movie threatens to crack open and become something more personal, but Chase keeps his distance and the movie (which in its first half contains huge time jumps) feels as jagged as one of those Sopranos episodes where 2/3 of the time is spent on one of Tony's dreams. As Douglas's dream girl Grace, Bella Heathcote has smarts and a Deschanel-like winsomeness but the script only gives her a few moments - in an underdeveloped subplot involving a troubled sister (Dominique McElligott)- when she isn't a vessel in which Douglas sees his own reflection. The best shot in Not Fade Away is the subtle camera move that Chase uses to pull away from Gandolfini the last time we see him. It's arguably a better ending than Chase gave Gandolfini in The Sopranos. Chase has given Not Fade Away a beat, but I wish he'd given his young rockers bigger hearts.

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