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The Suburbanite
  • Movie Review: 'Not Fade Away' a vivid coming of age tale

  • Intimately told and bathed in the hazy recollections of a rebellious youth, it’s the semi-autobiographical tale of a kid with a dream too big to possibly come true.

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  • Get in a rock band, get the girls. That’s the sacred motto of every teenage boy who’s picked up a musical instrument. I know this because I was one. So was David Chase, the vaunted brain behind the seminal HBO series, “The Sopranos.”
    Like me, he played bass, but mostly he drummed, setting the beat for everyone around him. It’s a role he’s played throughout his storied TV career, and continues to perform with his first feature film, the revisionist coming-of-age picture, “Not Fade Away.”
    Intimately told and bathed in the hazy recollections of a rebellious youth, it’s the semi-autobiographical tale of a kid with a dream too big to possibly come true. But as his heroes, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, lyrically reminded him back then, “you can’t always get what you want; you get what you need.”
    And for Chase, that was a gift for storytelling born out of his first love, music. To quote another hit song, he wanted to be on the cover of the Rolling Stone – as a rock star, not as the creator of one of the best shows in TV history. But he got there just the same, and that’s sort of the underlying message of his vividly cinematic trip down memory lane.
    Since this is his joint, told through his biased eyes, Chase is to be forgiven if his alter ego, Douglas (richly played by Bob Dylan look-alike John Magaro), comes off a tad too hip and heroic in transforming from nerdy high school nonentity to worshipped rock god in the eyes of the bevy of star-struck beauties who flock to him after he summons the courage to step to the mic and deliver a soulful rendering of “Time Is on My Side” at a New Year’s Eve party.
    Can fame and fortune be far behind? If this were the typical form-a-band movie like “Rock Star,” “The Commitments” or Tom Hanks’ “That Thing You Do,” we’d see Douglas and his three mates, superbly played by Jack Huston (nephew of Danny and Anjelica), Will Brill and Brahm Vaccarella, reach the pinnacle and fall part. But when has Chase ever been “typical”? Instead he gives us something vastly more interesting: a talented band that’s too selfish and noncommittal to ever take the next step.
    That’s the chorus. The music of “Not Fade Away” is in the verse. And at times, Chase’s mellifluous dialogue reaches a level of poetry that speaks wisely and directly to the essential truths of youth, dreams and the crushing disappointments of life. For Douglas, those realities come courtesy of a traditionalist father unamused by the stark changes in his son’s attitude and increasingly effete appearance.
    It’s the mid-1960s in suburban New Jersey, a time and place where long hair, pastel shirts and high-heeled Beatle boots were about as popular as a white kid throwing his support behind a black civil rights leader named Martin Luther King. And like that other dad he played for Chase, James Gandolfini nimbly walks a fine line between bitter authoritarian and bruised-and-battered teddy bear.
    Page 2 of 2 - He repeatedly creates moments of transcendence, as his Pat comes to terms with both his mortality and his disquieting envy toward a son who not only has time on his side, but also opportunity. He and Magaro play off each other so naturally that it never feels like acting. And because of it, the moment these embittered enemies reach a semblance of domestic détente, you can’t help but be profoundly moved.
    Only slightly less involving are Douglas’ ever-evolving relationships with his often difficult bandmates and his hot new girlfriend, Grace (“Dark Shadows” standout Bella Heathcote), whose flawless beauty stands in direct contrast to an ugly home life.
    Whew! That’s a lot for one two-hour movie, and one gets the impression that Chase was finding it difficult to break an old TV habit of indulging multiple storylines. As a result, a lot of those strands get short shrift or are forgotten altogether.
    But the obvious love that went into the making rarely fails to save “Fade” from vanishing. Add to that a terrific and diverse ’60s soundtrack, assembled by music supervisor Steven Van Zandt (aka Silvio Dante), featuring the likes of The Stones, Small Faces and The Left Banke, and you have a production that hits notes you thought only Chase’s primo Sopranos could reach.
    NOT FADE AWAY (R for pervasive language, some drug use and sexual content.) Cast includes John Magaro, James Gandolfini, Bella Heathcoate and Jack Huston. Written and directed by David Chase. At Kendall Square, Cambridge. Grade: B