Title: Not Fade Away
Director: David Chase (‘The Sopranos’)
While the 1960s is a decade synonymous with war, the civil rights movement and assassinations, the decade was also an era defined by its rock-n-roll musical revolution that represented many teens and young adults’ desire to find their own interests. The new drama ‘Not Fade Away,’ the feature film writing and directorial debut of ‘The Sopranos’ creator David Chase, tells the powerful coming-of-age story of typical American suburban teens trying to realize their dreams during a decade of political unrest. Not wanting to fall into the same mundane lifestyle, they invented a new form of art and perception of life, in an effort to rebel and create their own identities.
‘Not Fade Away’ follows aspiring teenager Douglas (John Magaro), who drops out of college after his first semester to form a band with his friends Gene (Jack Huston) and Wells (Will Brill), and they get their start playing covers of Bo Diddley, the Rolling Stones and the Kinks. After Gene, the lead vocalist, has to skip a gig after swallowing a lit joint, Douglas steps in, proving to be the better singer. Douglas’ singing finally captures the attention of his high school crush, Grace (Bella Heathcote).
While Douglas feels at home with the band, he develops an uneasy relationship with his blue-collar Italian-American family. His depressed mother, Antionette (Molly Price), shakes her head in disgust at her son, while his father, Pat (James Gandolfini), is always quick to start a fight with his son over his views. But the family pulls together when Pat is diagnosed with cancer. Pat begins to view his son’s steps toward self-discovery, and the regrets of his own life, which brings him closer to Douglas.
With his first feature film screenwriting effort, Chase created an emotional, relatable chronicle of Douglas’ struggle to launch, and find success with, his band, in order to realize his dream of truly living on his own terms. Between his objection over serving in what he perceives to be a futile war and his desire to rebel against his father’s more conservative views on what it means to be a family man, Magaro portrays Douglas as undergoing a realistic coming of age transformation. As Douglas listens to the new wave of rock-n-roll, including The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and is under the influence of drugs, he searches for his artistic and professional identities, but also garners the courage to finally reveal his true feelings for Grace.
Gandolfini, who was born a few years before Douglas truly began questioning the American ideals during the rock-n-roll revolution, was the perfect choice to portray a father struggling with the regrets of his life. Reflecting on his own at times strained relationship with his father, Gandolfini represents every father who can’t always express his love to his son in the most nurturing way. Pat wants Douglas to continue with college, or at least consider joining the army, and showcases his disdain for the musical career choices his son makes. Pat wants his son to have a stable life and embrace his idea of the American dream, and struggles with what he perceives to be outrageous lifestyle choices that Douglas continuously makes.
The rock-n-roll music, notably The Beatles and Rolling Stones songs, featured in ‘Not Fade Away’ truly defined Douglas’ struggle to find his true identity and created an emotional drift with his father. The songs sounded true to the characters’ experience, mainly in part to music supervisor Steven Van Zandt, one of the founding members of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Having previously worked with Chase as an original principal cast member on ‘The Sopranos,’ Van Zandt understood the director’s desire to create the right sounding music for every year showcased in the drama.
To help musically prepare Magaro, Huston, Brill and the rest of the actors playing the characters in the band, Van Zandt had them practice in his studio seven days a week for three months. Their hard work and dedication to learning the music as truly reflected in ‘Not Fade Away,’ as the actors truly playing the songs helped them understand their characters’ motivations and emotions. The actors truly sounded as though they were an actual band, struggling to find success; their characters therefore convincingly persevered in their careers, despite their families’ objections and not being signed to a record label right away.
While many rock-n-roll-inspired films focus on the agony and struggles musicians face as they try to launch their careers, ‘Not Fade Away’ instead uniquely features popular music in an intimate, powerful coming-of-age story. Chase realistically narrates Douglas’ struggles to find his true identity and passion in life, and natural resistance to automatically accepting his father’s beliefs as he moves into adulthood. When Douglas inadvertently discovers rock-n-roll and joins the band, he sees it as his way out of following his father’s footsteps, which he perceives to be a mundane lifestyle. The songs Van Zandt wrote for, and featured in, the film genuinely showcased Douglas and his friends’ emotions and need to find meaning in life, which was aided by the actors’ natural musical abilities.
Written by: Karen Benardello