In Not Fade Away, David Chase celebrates 1960s rock as a love to last more than one day 

For Those About to Rock

For Those About to Rock

For David Chase, the writer and director of Not Fade Away, rock and roll music has a seductive yet combustible allure. It's a thing that can build and destroy relationships with equal, effortless fervor. It can hypnotize as easily as it alienates. It's the greatest thing ever invented, yet the hardest to recreate; it can aggravate you, but it can also be your salvation. Rock and roll — can't live with it, can't live without it.

In short, Not Fade Away is basically Chase's rock-and-roll-changed-my-life movie. Chase, mainly known as the Man Who Changed Television Forever when he created The Sopranos (itself famous for its soundtrack selections, usually handpicked by Chase), goes full-on semi-autobiographical with his feature directorial debut. He takes us back to early 1960s New Jersey to follow around his stand-in, Douglas (spunk-filled newcomer John Magaro), a decent kid and aspiring drummer who gets bitten by the rock bug (beatle?) when the British Invasion hits our shores.

As mop-topped bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones infect kids' minds with their American blues-infused rock, our boy Douglas wrestles with what he wants to be. Soon, the clean-cut teen who once discussed a future in the college ROTC with his dad (played by James Gandolfini, Tony Soprano himself, here more melancholy than menacing) is growing his hair in a frizzy 'fro, joining a band and getting into fights with the old man about how Vietnam is a joke.

Of course, being in a band means you get all the ladies. But Douglas has his eye on one in particular: longtime high-school crush Grace (Australian actress Bella Heathcote). After she catches him singing lead at a party one night, Grace, who may be a pushover for lead singers (and has reputedly used her oral skills just to get close to musicians) instantly sees the budding rock star in him. A soulful romance eventually develops.

It's a rock and roll dream worthy of a Springsteen monologue, disapproving dad and all; fittingly, Chase got soundtrack help from one Steven Van Zandt, The Sopranos' Silvio in another life, who supplies a gritty take on Merseybeat-influenced garage rock suffused with blues and blue collars. Instead of amping up the melodrama to arena scale, Chase sticks mostly to the kind of conflicts familiar to any kid humping amps in and out of a storage unit: Douglas constantly butts heads with the band's ego-driven leader (Boardwalk Empire's Jack Huston), who'd rather stay in Jersey, sing lead and do covers rather than relinquish singing duties to superior vocalist Douglas, who's itching to leave town, write original material and make it big.

For all its wall-to-wall rock cues and archival performance clips, Not Fade Away is largely a quiet, nostalgic affair. Since Chase has a flair for subtlety in telling stories full of imploding moments, the movie has a somber, Paul Mazursky-esque tone. Funniest is how Chase paints rock as a bigger menace to Cold War society than the Russians — a catalyst for young guys to grow their hair long and crank their music loud, leaving their parents to fear they're throwing away their lives (or worse, gay!). One revealing moment has Gandolfini's dad watching a TV variety show where the Rolling Stones are performing; an eye-rolling Dean Martin quips condescendingly about the band, and Gandolfini grunts his approval.

But Chase posits rock and roll as a liberating force — a light at the end of a dull, conservative tunnel, a way for his protagonist to escape his family's bleak nuttiness. As he did in The Sopranos, Chase revisits themes of family dysfunction and mental illness lurking within suburban walls. Douglas is surrounded by mentally unhinged folk, including his overdramatic, nightmare-addled mom (Molly Price, basically playing a less sinister Livia Soprano) and Grace's bohemian sister (Dominique McElligott), who gets sent to a mental institution for her behavior.

Also, just as he did notoriously with The Sopranos, Chase ends the movie ambiguously (and annoyingly), coming up with an odd, lumbering, mostly silent coda that leaves our hero uncertain about the future but certain rock music will be there for him every step of the way. (I think that's it.) While Chase may still have trouble knowing how to end a story, he does pen an adoring, personal cinematic love letter to rock and roll. As the title implies, it's a love that will – well, you know.


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