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The Independent Critic

Bella Heathcote, Brad Garrett, Brahm Vacarella, Christopher McDonald, Jack Huston
David Chase
Rated R
112 Mins.
Paramount Vantage
One of the rare new Paramount theatrical releases not to get a combo pack, Not Fade Away is treated to three types of Blu-ray-exclusive bonus features as well as a downloadable digital copy and complimentary UltraViolet stream.First and most substantial are "The Basement Tapes", three featurettes of roughly equal length that add up to a 35-minute, 53-second documentary.There's also four deleted scenes here.

 "Not Fade Away" Will Fade Away Quickly 
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It seems like with every awards season, we get one "little gem" of a film being released by one of the studio's indie branches that we're expected to believe has one iota chance of pushing its way into the awards season picture. In 2012, that picture was The Music Never Stopped, a better than expected film about how music unexpectedly built a bridge between a father and his son.

It's music again this year, as "The Sopranos" creator David Chase serves up the autobiographical Not Fade Away, a film you will either find slightly warm and fuzzy or painfully cliche'd.

My vote is for painfully cliche'd.

Not Fade Away takes place in 60's New Jersey and centers around Doug (John Magaro), his typically overbearing and practical father (James Gandolfini) and a high-strung mother whose presence here isn't really that necessary. It goes without saying that Doug will be sitting around with friends Eugene (Jack Huston) and Wells (Will Brill) when some band, in this case The Rolling Stones, plays on television and suddenly our wayward young men will believe themselves to be the next great rock n' roll gods of the universe.

And, of course, this won't go over well at home.

And, of course, Doug will eventually come to love a beautiful girl (Bella Heathcote).

And, of course, this will all wind up poignantly and in such a deeply personal way that you'll get a true sense of how much this story means to Chase.

Been there. Done that. It never works out.

In fairness to Chase, Not Fade Away probably isn't quite as bad as the film's 1-star rating implies. It's simply so gosh darn irritating that every time I think about it I can't stop thinking about how anxious I was to leave the theater and how grateful I am to have had a painfully traumatic young adulthood that avoided any of these cliche's and overwhelming blandness.


Chase does a decent enough job of creating a 1960's vibe in the film, with music supervisor Steven Van Zandt assembling a solid collection of familiar 60's tunes and Ford Wheeler's production design gives us broad strokes of the era's rebellious yet still more innocent feelings. What Chase can't quite seem to construct is a story that holds our attention and plot threads that ever tie themselves together.

What's Not Fade Away really about? A love story? A rock n' roll story? A family? An era? A successful writer finally getting the chance to tell his childhood story?

I never quite figured it out and I never cared enough to try to chase it down.

Neither will you.

A huge part of the problem is that while Magaro's not at all a bad actor, he's simply not a strong enough actor to carry what amounts to the lead in a film. His scenes with James Gandolfini, who's mighty fine here, are awkward in just how strong Gandolfini's presence is while Magaro comes off more like a supporting player who just happens to be in a starring role. That was a similar problem to what held back last year's The Music Never Stopped, a film where J.K. Simmons' outstanding performance absolutely trumped the performance of lead Lou Taylor Pucci.

In this film, it's folks like Gandolfini and supporting players like Lisa Lampanelli and even, to a certain degree, Bella Heathcote rising above the material and really doing a nice job fleshing it out. Unfortunately, their appearances are rather minimal when compared to Magaro and the rest of his band.

In the end, Not Fade Away never really finds its story. Without a clear story to tell and a way to distinguish itself from the rush of awards season films, Not Fade Away will most certainly fade away rather quickly.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic