“I can’t get no satisfaction.” You may regard that as the title lyrics to the famed and catchy Rolling Stones song, but for me it’s the feeling you get when you find your opinions constantly against the grain. Perhaps that should make David Chase’s directorial debut a kindred spirit to me, in that the lead character of the film constantly has his own ambitions spit in his face. Maybe it’s Not Fade Away‘s closeness in proximity to Something in the Air, Olivier Assayas’ similarly period bound “adventures in teenhood” flick I reviewed this morning, that makes it vibrate as unintentionally repetitive. Or maybe I just have a natural adversity to New York Film Festival’s premiere slate.
That Assayas similarity was something that I dragged into Not Fade Away with me, as they both handle periods that were pretty adjacent to one another. It goes without saying that the political atmosphere of the French 1970s was vastly different from the Rock n’ Roll vibes of the American 1960s, though you may not be able to tell from the way the films are conveyed. Though not in a similar feel, they take on rather alike narratives. Douglas is a music obsessed child who dreams with his friends of hitting it big in the musical business, and so they start a band.
And then that’s it. It’s a film about a group of kids in an upstart cover band and how long it takes them to realize they’re never going to be exactly like the stars that inspired them. The best way to put it is that it attempts to deal with character dynamics, which are pretty routinely glossed over in terms of the band. When Douglas proposes that he should sing lead in the band, the group pretty easily accepts it outside the now former lead singer, who is portrayed typically as an embarrassing showoff with no cognoscente thought going on under the hood.
And as is the case with many so inclined films as this, Douglas finds himself falling for the most beautiful girl from back in school, and quite unrealistically hits it off with her. Their relationship never felt earned and was mostly forced upon Douglas as a function of him being central character. Even as an individual, Bella Heathcote’s Grace has little going on deep down besides the expected girlfriend remarks to when a guy is being an obnoxious ass. We’re never rooting for her the way we’re supposed to be rooting for Doug.
As a central character, John Magaro’s Doug is rather weak and faux-sophisticated, which doesn’t make him more sympathetic a conduit for the audience. It makes him rather unlikeable throughout, which puts us in a tricky position between him and his father, played by James Gandolfini. As much as the opportunistically just released trailer pushes him as a strong presence in the film, he falls rather typically to the backdrop for most of the film. His bluntly humorous jabs as Doug’s attire get tired very quickly, and the repetition of lines like “You look like you just got off the boat” does not aid in that issue. It’s a rather one-note role that fails to live up to the potential of the actor.
If Not Fade Away has a lasting impact, it’s for the music, which was already lasting pretty fine on its own. I have a certain difficulty praising a film for raising audience attentions to something they already knew existed. It rides much more on the hype of icons like The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and The Animals, but fails to truly contribute anything new, either musically or cinematically. Even the destination of the main character is something that was separately discovered by Olivier Assayas’ own feature. I suppose what has me harshing on David Chase’s mellow more is that his expression is one of fandom more than nostalgia, and even that doesn’t quite come through in displaying characters who don’t play very well to begin with. If you’re looking for a compelling slice of the 60s, go check out Mad Men. You might find yourself out of luck here.
Bottom Line: Not Fade Away strikes an off chord to an overplayed tune, not contributing enough ideas of its own to merit a lasting impression.