After a long, very successful career in television, The Sopranos creator David Chase has finally arrived as a feature-film director. It’s what he’s always wanted to do, you know, after having that brief 30+ year detour on the small screen. He will forever be known as the head of The Sopranos, but he has also worked as a producer/writer for various programs such as The Rockford Files, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Northern Exposure and I’ll Fly Away, to name a few.
With his first film, Not Fade Away, his exuberance for filmmaking is palpable in the first 30 minutes. Bursting onto the big screen, Chase gives us his slightly quirky visual style that fans of The Sopranos should recognize, infused with dark humor and insights on family life that we would come to expect.
Then, almost as abrupt as when he ended The Sopranos by cutting to black, the fun of Not Fade Away, well, fades away.
Featuring a largely unknown group of young actors, the story is a period piece, set in New Jersey in the 1960s. John Magaro is at the center, playing Douglas, who forms a rock band with a bunch of his friends, inspired by the insurgence of rock and roll and the changing, volatile social climate of the era. This is not a tale about a band that makes it big, but rather one representing the millions of other bands who dream of making it big yet rarely reach their goals.
Chase recruits his Sopranos star, James Gandolfini to play Douglas’ tough-as-nails father, who isn’t all that supportive of his son’s career choices. Molly Price plays the over-dramatic mother, who echoes Livia Soprano, both of which whom were loosely based on Chase’s own mother.
Out of the gates with reckless abandon, the film quickly loses momentum. Douglas meets the beautiful Grace (Bella Heathcote, who is perfectly cast as a free-spirit from the era, but who isn’t quite able to deliver during some of the film’s heavier scenes later in the film) and falls in love. Chase then gives us every convention that we would expect in a film about a struggling rock band. Even more disappointing, we get everything we would expect from a melodramatic TV special. Of course there is in-fighting, jealousy and threats of breaking up the band. Of course somebody gets cancer. Of course there is a car crash.
While Not Fade Away fails to find lasting relevance, it does act as a love letter to the times and to rock and roll itself. Not having lived through the 60s myself, this movie feels authentic in its look and feel. Unfortunately, authentic is the last word I would use to describe the many plot contrivances that are riddled throughout the film’s second half.
Chase shows enough to give us hope that he has a bright future as a film director, but falls short of creating a story that translates effectively to the big screen.
(Note: Be sure to check out my video interview with David Chase here).
Run Time: 1 hours 52 minutes, Rated R
Starring: John Magaro, Jack Huston, Will Brill, Bella Heathcote, James Gandolfini
Written & Directed by David Chase (feature-film directorial debut)
Opens locally on Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 (check for show times).
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