“Set in suburban New Jersey the 1960s, a group of friends form a rock band and try to make it big.”
Directed by: David Chase, Rated: R, 112 minutes
Telling a story set in the 1960s has become as formulaic as crafting a teen drama: Insert pretty faces + pump it full of things that people would assume is there = box office gold. How apropos than that director/screenwriter David Chases’ film Not Fade Away actually combines the teen drama with the 1960s retelling to make a bland, lifeless, ugly look at the world. I really didn’t want to think of Dark Shadows, but that’s all I thought while watching this. Both films believe that if you show in events, music, styles, from the time period to the point that you want to vomit up the decade, that’s what works. Sadly, it only heightens how wooden and stereotypical the drama and story are.
A group of boys in 1960s suburban New Jersey decide to put together a rock band to rival the Beatles. Tensions rise when lead singer Eugene (Jack Huston) finds himself kicked out of the band in favor of mild-mannered drummer Douglas (John Magaro).
I’m sure this blasphemy to admit to, but I’ve never watched an episode of The Sopranos. So, if Not Fade Away is meant to be evocative of David Chase’s directing/writing talent, than maybe it’s best that I don’t watch the series. The movie hits all of the expected beats of the 1960s including the rise of the Beatles and Vietnam. Of course, there are parents who don’t understand the “hippie” life changes of long hair or why teens are so against Vietnam. The film has the look and feel of a television series, not a full-length movie. There’s been a dearth of 60s based TV shows, and this plays out like one that would last a season. There’s even a scrappy little sister who narrates here, again reminding you of a period drama. I mentioned the comparison to Dark Shadows, and that’s true especially with how the 60s are portrayed. The events mentioned above, album covers, etc. are meant to make the audience say “Hey I remember that.” They never feel like anything more than an advertisement, or a way for Chase to scream “We’re REALLY in the 60s.”
If you’re not swayed by the movie’s nostalgic obsession with the time period, than you have to love the characters right? Not Fade Away is the story of a geeky guy, Douglas, who gets the girl, is the lead singer of a popular band, and is a total jerk! We never see him rise up against anything. He’s handed stuff, he gets what he wants, and he still isn’t happy. He needles people out of supposed “insecurities” that always feel as if he’s the world’s biggest douchebag! The brunt of his hostility is aimed at his girlfriend Grace (Bella Heathcote) who Douglas has to continually remind the audience is a slut for things she did before they started dating! By the end, as Douglas walks down a L.A. street to do something that’s never explained, I really wished the final image was of him getting hit by a truck.
The other members of the band appear to have bigger stories, but because Doug is our main character (and it’s been said he’s a filmic representation of Chase himself) you see him shove out the other characters as much as the narrative itself does. The only one who exhibits any charisma is Jack Huston as Eugene. He mentions, and I’m paraphrasing, that if Doug wasn’t around the success would be his. How I wish that was true. Eugene has the aura of an interesting character, but because the narrative doesn’t want us to like him he’s cast out. Huston has the makings of a great actor, but Not Fade Away is deathly afraid of showing that to us. Lead actor John Magaro is a poor man’s Shia Labeouf. He plays an arrogant guy well and that’s it. His character is the guy who feels like he’s been better than everyone since high school, even though high school’s over! Oh, and if I mention seeing a movie that has Bella Heathcote in it, slap me. She was also in the aforementioned Dark Shadows, and she is just as flat here as she was there. Chase seems to have a total inability to write women here. Heathcote’s character is the sex object who has random moments of philosophical wisdom that are head-scratching.
Well if the acting isn’t good, at least the film’s short, right? For 112 minutes, it feels like three hours. Very little actually “happens” in Not Fade Away. The narrative should be cut and dry; detailing how success ruins friendships. While that happens peripherally, the rest of the movie is filled with faux-philosophical conversations and stereotypical family drama involving abuse and Vietnam. This goes on for the 112 minutes before the movie just stops. Yep, there’s no end, the movie just stops moving! Oh, there is the little sister, who I kept forgetting about, showing up to dance. I guess that’s the ending.
I didn’t like Not Fade Away, and that’s mild. I love rock and roll biopics, but this doesn’t seem to care about rock and roll or music in general. The movie doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s filled with talk about unknown topics, and dreams of creating an anti-hero who is just anti-likable.
Rating: 3 out of 10