We knew immediately upon seeing that first Not Fade Away trailer, that the film is David Chase's ode to the days of rock 'n' roll. It was a period when the battle for the soul of music was waged between the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. Chase continues his love affair with New Jersey, that we first discovered on his The Sopranos. The movie takes place in the Garden State as a group of friends form a band in the hopes of being the next big thing.
The story centers on Douglas (John Magaro), who is living at home with his parents -- including his from another era father played by frequent Chase collaborator James Gandolfini.
Chase clearly adores the music of the 1960s and weaves it efficiently through his drama that not only captures the spirit of rock 'n' roll and what it meant to people while still in its infancy, but also the rapid changes that we experience moving from teenagers to adults. Through the sounds and lyrics of the aforementioned bands, plus some that are most likely new to your ears, the emotions onscreen are personified. But, this should not be a surprise. No one intertwined music and drama better than Chase when he was doing The Sopranos.
Band drama permeates, as it should in any film about a group of people who frankly spend a lot of time together. It centers around the emergence of Douglas from being asked to join the band as their drummer to when fate enters one night as their lead singer is injured (in the most hilarious of ways) and Douglas has to step in and sing lead. The band never sounded better. Toss in the fact that Bella Heathcote's Grace is kind of dating the (soon to be former) lead singer and when Douglas sings, he immediate catches her eye.
Unfortunately, the film falters going into its third act. As the audience can start to see where Not Fade Away is going, it is kind of a disappointment when it gets there. The ending is debatable in terms of what it means, yet it also has us wondering if the film is more autobiographical than Chase has ever let on. His affinity for the subject matter is present on every frame and Chase makes a solid jump from the small to big screen. His Jersey stories are welcomed anytime, just look at what he emotes from a simple Not Fade Away poster.
Our Not Fade Away review has to point out that whether the band at the heart of the film makes it or not is not the point. Chase's film is a love letter to a period where musical expression expanded exponentially. It was a time where musicians moved people with their work and some (i.e. the Beatles) even changed the world.