Mike Kueber's Blog

December 14, 2013

Saturday Night at the Movies #92 – Not Fade Away

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 9:32 pm
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After David Chase created and developed a TV show – The Sopranos – that many consider to be the all-time best, he next attempted to employ his talents by writing, producing, and directing the movie Not Fade Away.  The film is a music-driven coming-of-age story set in 60s NYC exurbia that focuses on three kids trying to become the next Beatles or Rolling Stones.

Rock ‘n Roll music permeates the movie and orchestrating the presentation is none other than Stevie Van Zandt, a guitar player for Springsteen’s E Street Band and a Soprano co-star.  Van Zandt is listed as the movie’s music producer and an executive producer.

Emphasizing the role of music in this movie, in the climactic final scene, the protagonist’s younger sister, who also serves as a narrator, addresses the camera directly and asserts that America’s two biggest innovations are nuclear weapons and rock ‘n roll, and she wonders which will win in the end.

Chase, however, sees the movie differently.  He describes it as “a post-war, post-Depression-era parent who has given his kid every advantage that he didn’t have growing up, but now can’t help feeling jealous of the liberated, more adventurous destiny his son is able to enjoy.”  Observers have noted that much of the movie appears to be autobiographical of Chase’s youth.  (The parent whom Chase is referring to is the movie’s co-star James Gandolfini, who was the estimable star of The Sopranos.)

Although I have always enjoyed music, I have never been obsessed with it the way the characters in this movie are.  Perhaps that explains why the non-music aspect of the movie is what attracted me.  Although the characters never really come-of-age by the end of the movie, I thoroughly enjoyed their journey as far as it went.  That is why I was not surprised that the movie was well-received by critics (70% on Rotten Tomatoes), but I was shocked by its audience rating of only 41%.  Despite a budget of $20 million, the film brought in only $600,000 with its limited release this past December.  (Despite the limited release, the movie was reviewed by 86 critics, an amount that is testament to Chase’s clout in the industry.)

Before its December release, the movie played on October 6 at the New York Film Festival, and I can imagine being a potential investor seeing the movie and deciding to invest heavily in the movie.  Boy, would I have been shocked at the box office result.  The only explanation I can think of for this result is that Gandolfini may have been central to Chase’s (and my) vision of the movie, but he was irrelevant to the music-driven part of the movie, and without him carrying the movie, newcomers John Magaro and Bella Heathcoate could not pull it off.  Magaro’s character is an interesting guy, but he looks like an undersized Howard Stern.  Heathcoate is attractive, but there is no chemistry with Magaro.

I give the movie three and a half stars out of four.  It is well worth seeing, especially if you enjoy music and revisiting life in the 60s.

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