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November 16, 2016

Not Fade Away

by Franz Patrick


Not Fade Away (2012)
★ / ★★★★

Douglas (John Magaro) has always been interested in music, particularly playing drums, so he hopes to join a band, and make it big one day. When he and his friends are caught in the middle of the British Invasion, they start their own. Scheduled to play for a party, when the lead singer, Eugene (Jack Huston), swallows a joint accidentally and had to go home, Douglas steps up to the mic and reveals a soulful voice that no one expected. Soon, time, egos, and personal troubles get in the way of their goals and the big picture.

Written and directed by David Chase, “Not Fade Away” is one of the most self-indulgent would-be rock musical-drama I have had the displeasure of watching for some time. It is shameless in using the great music of the ’60s as a crutch without injecting much thought or craft in its story and characterizations.

There is not one person worth rooting for. While Douglas is a nice guy, he blends into the background until he is required to perform on stage. Only then he becomes mildly interesting to observe and listen to because Magaro does have a captivating singing voice and body language that fit within that era. Unfortunately, the script fails to establish a believable defined arc for the protagonist. For the majority of the time, he whines about girls and it is most irritating. When he does get closer to a former high school classmate named Grace (Bella Heathcote), their relationship starts off toxic and does not change until the inevitable final arc.

Perhaps part of the problem is that the screenplay jumps in time occasionally without much warning. One moment we are watching events taking place over Thanksgiving holidays and the next it is Christmas break. Coupled with people on screen who seem to have a heavy cloud that follows them, lines delivered consistently flat mired in faux-angst, it is simply not fun to watch. As the supposedly conflicted characters go through the motions, I realized that I am trying to endure the experience. When I watch movies or listen to music of the 60s, I feel envy that I was not alive during that tumultuous period. This film succeeds in pulling off the unimaginable: making the ’60s boring.

Watching Douglas’ consistently unpleasant family feels like being in a chokehold. The mother (Molly Price) is pessimistic and constantly sneering, the father (James Gandolfini) is the stereotypical disapproving figure who hates that his son is turning into a “hippie,” and the sister, Evelyn (Meg Guzulescu), might as well not have been there because she does nothing except look dazed. Evelyn narrates the picture in the beginning and the end but why? She is given not one interesting to say about her brother, his band, her household, or the changes that are happening not only in New Jersey but also in the whole country due to the Vietnam War and the invasion of rock ‘n’ roll.

When the narrative structure gets too messy or unfocused, the picture cuts into images of The Beatles or The Rolling Stones on television. While the songs featured are toe-tapping, as a film, an individual piece of work, it just sits there. For a decade that contains treasure troves of inspiration, this one does not exude a drop.

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