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Movie Review: “Not Fade Away”

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The Sopranos‘ creator David Chase has mostly laid low in the four years since his critically acclaimed masterwork went off the air. But now he’s back with “Not Fade Away,” a tale of rock ‘n’ roll in 1960s New Jersey that Chase wrote and directed.

I was looking forward to this one, but unfortunately it lands with a huge thud. “Not Fade Away” is a totally by-the-numbers boomer nostalgia exercise, of the type we’ve already seen dozens of times. And aside from James Gandolfini and lovely, familiar-looking New Jersey vistas, the film is missing just about everything that made The Sopranos great, from ingenuity to great storytelling to memorable dialogue.

“Not Fade Away,” which is presumably autobiographical to some degree on Chase’s part, is set in Northern New Jersey, and covers a large chunk of time between 1963 and ’68 or so. Teenager Doug (John Magaro), who worships the Rolling Stones despite looking more like a young Bob Dylan, lives with his father (Gandolfini) and dreams of rock ‘n’ roll stardom while also hoping to romance a popular girl (Bella Heathcote.)

The romance is cute, but the family stuff is by-the-numbers, and the film never commits to its music subplot. I didn’t care for one second about the band, the people in it, or whether or not they made it. The film aims for “Almost Famous,” but it’s not even as good as “That Thing You Do!”

Among many problems here, the shoddy storytelling is really the worst part of all. The plot is just all over the place, and more than one strand is dropped and never picked up again. There were times when The Sopranos had weak stretches, but it never meandered like this, not even in the dream sequence or coma episodes. But there is, however, a maddeningly inconclusive ending.

Gandolfini, despite living in a different time and not being a criminal, looks, talks and dresses exactly like Tony Soprano. Molly Pryce gives a one-note performance as Doug’s very disagreeable mom; any resemblance to fellow Chase mother surrogate Livia Soprano, I’m sure, is purely coincidental.

Isiah Whitlock’s talents are wasted in two scenes where he talks blues music while digging a golf sandtrip. Jack Huston- so excellent as the masked gunman on Boardwalk Empire- delivers a good performance as one of the band members, even though he’s about ten years too old for the part.

Other Sopranos alum, Steven Van Zandt is the film’s music supervisor, but the choices are all thunderingly obvious- just the greatest hits of the time.

And indeed, film’s take on 1960s culture is almost deliberately conventional and uncontroversial. Everyone’s two favorite bands are the Beatles and the Stones. The old-school dad gets on his teenage son’s case for having long hair, which is really just Archie Bunker yelling at Meathead all over again. And the ending, is just laughable, including a druggy trip to California that I liked better the three different times Don Draper did it. And the last scene is especially nonsensical.

Can’t we be done with this boomer idealization of the ’60s at some point? Weren’t the ’60s long enough ago that we can stop making movies about them? I suppose it could’ve been worse. Chase could’ve turned this lackluster idea into a TV series that went on for years.

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