The Sopranos creator David Chase might go down as one of the most important people to work in the television industry, but I guarantee the same won’t be said for his involvement in the medium of film. His first full-length feature, Not Fade Away, is a complete disaster from start to finish, with the only watchable performance coming from James Gandolfini and his ability to play a convincing grump of a father. Other than that Not Fade Away is a stiff-acted and amateurishly shot film that looks like it was made for a couple of bucks on a slow day.
Douglas (John Magaro) and his high-school buddies have dreams of making it big in a rock band during what might be considered the greatest time for such bands; the 1960s. The Rolling Stones are the bee’s knees and The Beatles are the cat’s pajamas, so naturally Douglas and his recruits think they got what it takes to make it as stars. He starts out as a lonely drummer and quickly works his way up as the lead singer and band spokesman, grabbing the attention of his high-school crush Grace (Bella Heathcote) along the way.
But with each new life goal he sets he somehow manages to piss off his grumpy old father Pat (James Gandolfini) a little more. The more Douglas eats into the bullshit that he spews from his mouth the longer it is until the film’s eventual end, which feels like forever.
Seriously, I cannot recall the last time I watched something this short turn out this uninteresting and downright bad. Not Fade Away doesn’t feel like a film from a grown director who has had previous success in other fields. It feels like an amateur film made by some college kid that thought it was cool to listen to his dad’s old records while painting the deck.
There’s a certain aimless direction that never gives the film the proper push it needs to tell its on-again off-again story. One minute Douglas is completely dedicated to being in the greatest band ever and the next he randomly decides he might want to take up the world of film. He’s either completely submerged in the world of art or he’s too busy focused on being pissed at his dad for spewing out smart remarks about Doug’s ridiculous haircut and lack of ever wanting to get a real job or a sense of what the real world is like.
This isn’t because Doug is a struggling and very talented artist. This is because Doug is some sort of early-blooming hippie without an actual cause. He’s surface-level deep and can be obliterated with a salt shaker at the dinner table. David Chase doesn’t do a very good job making this character appeal to us an audience, because the actor playing Douglas seems just about as lost as we are.
John Magaro hasn’t really had many runaway hits as an actor, unless you consider My Soul to Take to be a national treasure. His inexperience to play anything serious is what hurts the role of the lost and confused Doug. You can never really feel his pain or sadness because he’s always cracking a half-smirk that looks like he’s either completely stoned or about to break out in tears.
Singling out Magaro isn’t even fair, because the acting as a whole is stiff to the point of every line feeling like its being forced through the screen. There’s random pauses that plague normal scenes of dialogue and there’s also these sudden shifts in conversation that feel unnatural and distracting.
The film has a cheap look to it that indicates the production value must have been lower than low. At one point I had to stop and wonder if the film was shot on one of Chase’s cameras that he uses to record home videos, because that would explain the constant need for light in scenes that are completely dark and it would also account for the spotty pacing and dialogue. Maybe Chase had to shoot the entire thing in one take and this is what he came up with?
A 60s coming-of-age period piece shouldn’t look this flat and dull. There’s no cinematic feel to Not Fade Away and it’s very off-putting.
Not Fade Away is a pointless film that takes its toll on you at about the twenty minute mark. Everything after that is just a fuzzy memory of some sort of coming-of-age story that never reaches adulthood. It rarely makes a lick of sense and when it does it’s mostly just James Gandolifi‘s character making fun of his son for looking like some alien from another world, wig and all.
Not Fade Away – 5/10