As drummer in a forgotten New Jersey band in the 1960s, David Chase never got close to making it in music. Yet from a sound check of his rock-infused HBO series "The Sopranos," it's clear the music never faded away.
So what better way for the TV revolutionary to make his film directing debut than with a story that's all about the music? Chase's "Not Fade Away" — a somewhat autobiographical drama about a Jersey boy playing drums in a '60s band and dreaming of stardom — would be called a promising first feature from some unknown filmmaker doing the rounds at Sundance. Coming from a Hollywood heavyweight who's spent decades in the TV trenches, it's a hopeful sign, or maybe just wishful thinking, that more of the quality that has fled film for television might somehow be channeled back to the big-screen.
"Not Fade Away" is a sweet, sad, smart and satisfying piece of nostalgia. Yet it's more than just a little acid trip down memory lane. Chase writes intimately and authoritatively about a time and place and attitude he lived himself, and does it with such energy and affection that we wish we were back at the beginning ourselves, when rock 'n' roll grew up from mere pop music to an art and lifestyle all its own.
Like "The Sopranos," much of the drama arises out of generational conflict, in this case rebellious son Douglas (John Magaro) and his pragmatic, my-way-or-the-highway dad ("Sopranos" star James Gandolfini). As countless teens before and since, Douglas is infected by music — chiefly, the bluesy, rootsy rock of the early Rolling Stones — and joins a band with some New Jersey pals who are similarly caught up in the British invasion of the early and mid-'60s.
From there we get not the overdone tale of a group on the rise and struggling with the pitfalls of fame and success. Instead, we get the genuine and more illuminating story of all those losers who didn't make it. Who maybe didn't put in the time, maybe didn't have the talent, maybe didn't pursue the dream with the single-minded fanaticism that it usually takes to rise to the top, or even to climb the first couple of rungs.