Not Fade Away

Posted by Michael Parsons on January 4, 2013 in / No Comments


(This review was originally published on January 4, 2013 at Reel Film News)

If you’re an avid fan of the Rolling Stones and appreciate the typically languid pace of “Sopranos” mastermind David Chase, then parts of this fictionalized flashback to the writer/director’s formative years as part of a New Jersey garage band might interest you. “Not Fade Away” is likely to trigger a little nostalgia, though you’ll need to put up with a whole lot of nothing to enjoy the film’s redeeming aspects, which are so few and far between that its title could refer more to Chase’s overestimation of his audience’s attention span than to the Buddy Holly song.

96732_gal1-500x332-1Contrived dialogue headlines this meandering early ’60s piece about Douglas (John Magaro, “Liberal Arts”), an awkward, aspiring young musician who matures through the failure of a band that is obviously going nowhere (even if you’re not privy to Chase’s history or his unequivocal success, this is the sense you’ll get). Jack Huston (HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”) plays the hotshot frontman whose behavior triggers the requisite drama between Douglas and the rest of the band, which also includes Wells (Will Brill, “Beside Still Waters”) and Joe (newcomer Brahm Vaccarella), as they work a string of small-time gigs with dreams of recording a studio album (one of the more relatable points in the film is a scene in which the harsh reality of the business is laid out for the foursome by an agent played by a perfectly dry Brad Garrett).

Though individually well-acted, there’s never enough cohesion between any of the main characters to convey any real sense of emotional depth – or growth, for that matter – and lacks the substance to distract us from how thin the relationships feel. The result is an aimless, angsty pseudo-drama; ironic, I thought, for such a deeply personal piece, though I suppose it’s possible that Chase’s undoubtedly introspective approach might inadvertently deviate from what we’d consider ‘entertainment’ into something entirely self-gratifying. This leaves the actors with some pretty flaccid material, at least from my perspective; if for no other reason than to fill in the blanks, Chase manages to shoehorn the F-Bomb, the most grammatically versatile word in the English language, into places where even it doesn’t make sense.

That’s not to say that “Not Fade Away” is an entirely awful film, but it certainly isn’t going to be a very engaging two hours for anyone who isn’t excited about listening to music that’s been covered countless times over the last four decades (particularly once you realize that there’s no discernible story arc). This isn’t some original idea about how the ’60s revolutionized music; it’s never moving or even particularly clever. It’s one big lateral move, such as life can be, but the errant storyline goes places that only seem to satisfy Chase’s need to purge his inner musician. If certain mundane events are supposed to be revelatory, they must be straight out of Chase’s diary; I’d more interested in seeing his autobiography than a thinly veiled account of it.

96734_gal1-500x325There are a few things that the film gets right, if only to make its other aspects feel more humdrum. Bella Heathcote (“Dark Shadows”) plays Grace, a young woman with an affinity for musicians who becomes Douglas’s disproportionately alluring better half; the Australian actress is one of the few pleasantries here, in addition to James Gandolfini, whose role as Douglas’s hotheaded, less-than supportive father is only less intimidating than his similarly tempered Tony Soprano because he doesn’t own a ‘waste management’ company here.

Perhaps the meaningful notes of the film are hidden too deeply in the details for me to see; perhaps I’m not looking hard enough. While Chase must have experienced some catharsis in recreating a portion of his childhood through this film (a story that apparently he’s been wanting to tell for ages), that doesn’t mean it’s going to be relevant, or even interesting, for everyone. He is so wrapped up in capturing the musical essence of that era that he seems to have forgotten that he was making a movie; just about every song performed in the film by the nameless band is shown from beginning to end, and watching it made me begin to feel like I was being held hostage at a karaoke lounge.

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Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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