Not Fade Away (2012), the autobiographical feature debut by The Sopranos creator David Chase, is not the usual rise-and-fall story of the rock and roll band.
There is a band at the center of the film and Douglas (John Magaro), a Jersey kid who graduates from high school as an overlooked schlub looking for something of his own, joins in on the drums and, eventually, vocals and songwriting. It makes him cool and even attracts the attention of local golden girl Grace (Bella Heathcote). But it’s really more about the guys, the culture, and growing up in the sixties, with the music as part of the fabric of the experience, less a professional aspiration than being part of the moment. Chase jumps through the decade, and the band’s stuttering evolution, to capture Douglas and friends as they feel their way to adulthood.
Douglas finds his expression in rock and roll music in the early 1960s (tellingly, it’s the Stones that inspire Douglas and his pals, not the Beatles) and his passion bumps up against his blue-collar father’s idea of success and practicality. Dad is played by James Gandolfini, Chase’s Tony Soprano himself, and Douglas goes through the usual rebellion and contrariness that differs only in the period details. But under the familiar trappings are lived experiences, Dad schooled in surviving the Depression, Douglas growing up fast in a culture changing even faster, the two ultimately connecting as they get over their anger and stop letting their differences define their relationship.
Perhaps the most inspired observation is how the band fails not out of bad breaks or rigged games, but simply a lack of commitment to the art they claim to be paramount. Life goes on and they go their own ways, following their hearts, their passions, their dreams, and ending up places they never planned on. Chase understands that the music matters, but it doesn’t necessarily define them.
Steven Van Zandt is executive producer and music supervisor, and he put together the real band (which includes member of the E-Street Band) that plays the music on the soundtrack.
Jack Huston plays the best friend and musical partner and Christopher McDonald and Brad Garrett costar.
Blu-ray and DVD, with the 35-minute documentary “The Basement Tapes,” which digs into the inspirations of the film as well as the production, and the brief “Building the Band” featurette on the cast, plus four deleted scenes.