Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
Not Fade Away

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Title: Not Fade Away

That Sounds Like The Title Of A Song: What a coincidence, as it's the name of a 1957 Buddy Holly single, a cover version of which was the Rolling Stones' first U.S. single. This will not be on the final exam.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Two and a half of those old plastic lemon juice bottles out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Jersey kid joins band in the '60s, fails to become Bruce Springsteen.

Tagline: "From the creator of The Sopranos."

Better Tagline: "A time it was, and what a time it was. It was."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Douglas (John Magaro) just wants what every kid in the 1960s wants: to join a rock and roll band and become ridiculously successful. His father Pat (James Gandolfini) is less enthusiastic, even when junior brings home nice local girl Grace (Bella Heathcote). Why can't our parents understand us, maaaan?

"Critical" Analysis: I guess navel gazing about the 1960s has gotten rare enough in recent years that revisiting it feels fresh again. At least that seems to be the case with Not Fade Away, a pleasant enough effort that nonetheless brought about serious déjà vu at several points during its running time.

I don't mean to belittle the memory of an entire decade, except when I do. How many times have we seen the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination in the movies or on TV? How many scenes of parents and children arguing about the war in Vietnam? Well, you'll see it a few more times here, backed by a soundtrack that -- while impressively compiled by "Little" Steve Van Zandt -- you've doubtless heard played somewhere before. Repeatedly.

And it isn't as if the movie is a failure. There's a reason the theme of boy gets girl/boy loses girl after learning she's blown half the varsity football team/boy gets girl is a recurring cinematic theme (except for the blow job part, maybe). Douglas's growing confidence and maturation never felt forced -- which is more credit to Magaro than anything -- and even though it's next to possible to separate Gandolfini from Tony Soprano in many people's minds, in portraying Pat he captures the longing felt by an aging man watching his son take the chances he was never able to. Pat could've been a one-note character (we still get that, thanks to Christopher McDonald as Grace's ad-man dad), but a handful of throwaway conversational snippets actually made me want to learn more about his character.

And there's another problem: I found myself more interested in most of the supporting characters than Douglas. Besides Pat, there's Grace's potentially unhinged older sister Joy (Dominique McElligott), or band guitarist Wells (Will Brill), as self-absorbed as he is full of shit. Yet each of these characters was somehow more compelling than Douglas, who doesn't help his case by giving us plenty of eye-rolling moments through the movie's first two acts, including spouting off to his old man about 'Nam and holding forth to his black co-laborer (Isiah Whitlock Jr., Senator Clay Davis himself) about the blues.

Until the end, I guess. It won't be a spoiler to say the band doesn't make it big (that's laid out for us in the first three minutes), but the uncertainty of Douglas and Grace's eventual fates leaves us on a nicely ambivalent note. Certainly compared to the predictability of most of what came before.

More indicative of the overall experience are two scenes in which Douglas and Grace are watching movies (Touch of Evil and Blow Up), demonstrating a couple of moviemaking pitfalls. The first is, try not to include clips in your own movie of films that are better than yours. Second, avoid having your character (Douglas, in this case) make a comment that could just as easily be applied to your own effort. To wit, "What's this movie about? Nothing's happening."

I honestly forgot David Chase was responsible for this until seeing his name in the end credits, because the largely by-the-numbers portrayal of '60s familial angst and garage band dynamics recalls little of the Sopranos creator's brilliance.

Not Fade Away is in theaters today. Is that Freedom Rock, man?

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