MRR Movie Review: Not Fade Away

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Set in suburban New Jersey the 1960s, a group of friends form a rock band and try to make it big. Starring Bella Heathcote, Justine Lupe & James Gandolfini.
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Movie Review: "Not Fade Away"

-- Rating: R
Length: 112 minutes
Release Date: December 21, 2012
Directed by: David Chase
Genre: Drama

"Not Fade Away" will bring viewers of a certain age back to the memories of their teen years, while giving younger viewers a glimpse into the past. Set in the 1960s, the film tells the story of several friends who decide to make a rock band and start their journey on the road to stardom.

The film centers on Douglas Damiano (John Magaro), a teenage boy who finds himself enamored of the rock band the Rolling Stones. As the Rolling Stones gain fame in the U.S., Damiano wonders if his band could achieve the same level of popularity. The film interweaves the story of his band with the that of his life at home. The youngster lives with a father who doesn't understand rock and roll music and would rather his son enlist in the military and get a haircut than play music.

Director David Chase does a phenomenal job of weaving together the two stories and explaining the relationship that Damiano shares with his friends and family. Eugene (Jack Huston) and Wells (Will Brill) are two of his band mates who express some doubt that they will ever find any success, while his strong desire to impress Grace (Bella Heathcote), a woman he likes, with his music keeps him going despite all the obstacles.

Chase is the creator of the hit television show "The Sopranos," and he cast James Gandolfini of that show to play Damiano's father in the film. Gandolfini is perfectly cast in the role, portraying a man who almost feels confused about the changes going on around him. Chase also does a smart job of setting the film in the turbulent 1960s. Young boys across the country watched bands like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles gaining fame, and those bands expressed the changing times.

While the film focuses on Damiano, it actually presents the story through the eyes of his younger sister Evelyn (Meg Guzulescu). Though the girl is just a few years younger than his brother, Evelyn sees the world in a new and different way, and she can empathize with his brother being unhappy because she goes through the same changes. Using Evelyn as the narrator sometimes leads to a few problems in the film, especially when it comes to romantic scenes. Evelyn also narrates scenes that she does not appear in, which might make some viewers question how she would know what happened.

Chase serves as both director and writer of the film, and he admits that he based the story on some of his own experiences. While Chase dreamed of becoming a writer rather than a musician, he lived through the 1960s and witnessed teens' transition from prim and proper behavior to wildness and belief in free love. Despite some of the performances needing a little more strength, Chase wrote a generally solid script.

The film falls on the shoulders of John Magatro, an actor who has little experience outside of a few television shows and short films. He has the classic 1960s rock star look with shaggy hair that falls in his eyes and a compelling voice. The film presents him as something of a nerd in the early scenes, and while he looks just like Bob Dylan, his classmates frequently ridicule him. When he finally steps up to sing, Chase wants the viewers to root for the character, but it almost comes across as too much of a cliché.

The early scenes in "Not Fade Away" may seem a bit too lengthy at times, making viewers wanting Damiano to start singing earlier. Chase avoids showing what Damiano's meteoric rise to stardom is exactly due to. Instead of exploring how the band kept practicing and working on their music, he simply shows the character gaining a legion of fans after singing at one party.

"Not Fade Away" shares its name with a documentary detailing the legacy of Buddy Holly, and the film pays homage to the iconic singer in a few scenes. Fans of oldies won't be disappointed either, because the film has a rocking soundtrack filled with some of the best music from the decade. Whenever one of those songs kicks in, viewers will find themselves dancing in their seats.

The film also has a strong supporting cast, including Guzulescu in her first film role. Though she only appears in a few scenes, she serves as the heart of the film. "Not Fade Away" is the type of film that will bring back memories to some viewers and make other viewers wish that they had a chance to live through that turbulent decade.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars