Not Fade Away screened after WW press deadlines. Critic Robert Ham thinks it should disappear entirely.
Critic's Grade: D
In the last moments of Not Fade Away
, the first feature film written and directed by The Sopranos
creator David Chase, one of the film's minor characters appears on screen. She looks right in the camera, and slowly speaks about the greatness of rock-'n'-roll music. And then she starts go-go dancing.
Telling you this doesn’t spoil anything. Instead, it's to warn you ahead of time that in the five years since his award-winning mob drama ended, Chase has lost all sense of subtlety and trust in the intelligence of his audience, and that the previous two hours of the film in no way support his grand premise.
What we get instead is an impotent semi-autobiographical story that begs its audience to notice how many period-appropriate details it gets right. Lest the clothes, hairstyles and cars didn't clue you in to Not Fade Away's mid-to-late '60s setting, you get a black man discussing Martin Luther King, Jr., an apropos-of-nothing reference to Kurt Vonnegut and a poster for The Graduate, among many other emblems of the times.
Hidden within all this window dressing is a plot that centers on Doug, a young gent from New Jersey (John Magaro) who aspires toward some sort of greatness while pining for the prettiest girl in school. He eventually wins her over, thanks to his membership in a decent but ultimately hapless garage band. They spend the rest of the film cooing, fighting, fucking and smoking a lot of cigarettes.
Chase makes stops on this journey for some scenes of Doug butting heads with his traditionalist father (an underused James Gandolfini) over his long hair, Cuban heels and liberal attitudes. But the rest of the story....well, there's not much story there. Though it makes attempts at coherence and tries to delight in the power of rock music, what instead emerges is an episodic ode to the follies of youth.
In that realm, the film scores its greatest hits, as we watch Doug and his bandmates prattle on about their dreams of eventual success or observe Doug’s attempt to express a ham-fisted political awareness at the dinner table. Such scenes provide the only stings of truth and the only honestly earned chuckles.
For the rest of its running time, Not Fade Away reveals an utter lack of understanding of filmic language. The dramatic moments come out laughable, the romance feels like slapstick and its attempts at comedy are groaningly bad. Every chord Chase and his cast and crew hit turns out distorted and out of tune.