What does a guy do after creating one of the most critically acclaimed television shows of all time?
Make a deeply personal, low-budget feature film, of course.
Five years after the conclusion of "The Sopranos," David Chase has released "Not Fade Away," a film with some big ideas but little of the bombast of the HBO series -- even though "Sopranos" star James Gandolfini is part of the cast.
The movie opens with its protagonist graduating from a New Jersey high school in 1964, the same year writer and director Chase graduated from a New Jersey high school. He's going to college in the fall, but is otherwise a little lost -- until he discovers rock and roll.
|'Not Fade Away'|
|2.5 out of 4 stars|
|Stars: John Magaro, Jack Huston, Will Brill, James Gandolfini|
|Director: David Chase|
|Rated: R for pervasive language, some drug use, and sexual content|
|Running time: 112 minutes|
"Not Fade Away" is the story of the band young Douglas (John Magaro) forms, and we know from the start how successful they'll become. His sister, who narrates now and then, tells us, "Like most bands, you've never heard of them." He and his mates are inspired by the bands of the British Invasion, like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but never achieve their success. No matter -- music makes the lives even many of those who will never make their living from it.
Like many young men, Douglas is drawn to forming a band by two things: the new sounds he can barely understand but wants so much to replicate, and a pretty girl who won't give him the time of day.
"I've got this skinny physique, this scuzzy complexion," Douglas moans after watching Grace (Bella Heathcote) make out with yet another jock boyfriend. Cut to Mick Jagger on "The Hollywood Palace": Every girl in town watches television that night and falls in love -- well, lust -- with the scrawny boy from Kent.
Once Douglas graduates from quiet drummer to lead singer and songwriter, he'll finally get the attention of the girl from the family on the other side of the tracks. But he'll also lose the camaraderie of his father (Gandolfini). For some of the usual reasons -- the guy doesn't want to see his son dress like "a fruit" -- and some unusual ones: Pat, married to Antoinette (Molly Price), who's more put-upon in her head than in reality, often seems more envious of than disgusted by Douglas's free-spirited life and music.
"Not Fade Away" is an eloquent love letter to an era, one in which times were changing faster than they had ever seemed to before and great music was heard from radios, TVs, and gramophones just about everywhere you went. But it's more than a little unfocused. And filled with '60s cliche: Every "big" moment of the decade is here, and characters talk about those moments every chance they get.
I don't think I'm giving too much away by saying that Douglas finally realizes, luckily, before it's too late, that he'll never achieve the stardom of his idols. But he also can't shake the music that inspired his youthful dreams -- as well as an entire generation.