David Chase’s Not Fade Away opens with the syncopated beeping of a TV announcement signal mashed with the opening of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Everything you need to know about the film is in this opening. It takes the grossly familiar and, through some tweaking, makes it sound fresh, and it will do the same to a period—the ‘60s—that frankly doesn’t need more covering.
Admittedly, the rest of Chase’s film debut isn’t this aggressively revolutionary. In fact, it can play like an R-rated version of The Wonder Years whose entire run has been compressed into two ellipses-heavy hours. Chase’s stand-in is Douglas (John Magaro), a Jersey teen who, like many, loves rock ‘n’ roll enough to form his own band. He also likes a pretty girl (Bella Heathcote) and has a disapproving father (Chase alum James Gandolfini). So far, so generic. But life isn’t always predictable, even in movies. His shitty basement party band stays together longer than they should. And as he enters then blows off college, the disappointments pile up.
Not Fade Away arrives around the same time as Something in the Air, in which filmmaker Olivier Assayas (Summer Hours, Carlos) surveys his own misspent youth. For Assayas, the draw is politics; for Chase, it’s music. (At the end, both leads wind up heading into film.) Air’s headier subject matter makes for more dynamic viewing, but that doesn’t mean Not Fade Away is frivolous. Both capture youthful passions with a mix of sincerity and mockery: Douglas’ one foray into politics is a weak confrontation with his dad (“Man, Vietnam is so ridiculous … ”) while he and his bandmates are prone to such pretentious proclamations as “I’m into advanced time signatures.”
Also like Air, Not Fade Away thrillingly hurtles us through time. We never get dates or even years, relying on major moments (the JFK assassination, the escalation in Vietnam, shaggy hair) to tell us where we are in history. Major developments are elided: one character announces they have cancer, only for it to never again be brought up—just like in The Room, although Chase handles it a touch better. In these two films, youth—and life in general—is a blur of misdirected passions, cultural landmarks that will seem major in retrospect and rapid personal and societal evolution. People start out as clichés— “You’re a fucking cliché,” one character shouts to another—only to wind up more defined and unique. Just like the film.