Most writers compose coming-of-age memoirs about experiences that once seemed meaningful or, seen in retrospect, shaped their adulthoods.
Almost all of those should be suppressed. But many authors don’t know that – or, when they reach positions of sufficient power to circulate anything they write, don’t care.
Case in point: David Chase.
“Not Fade Away” is about an Italian kid named Doug who ages from 17 to 21 through the middle of the 1960s, drums in a rock band in northern New Jersey, has an overbearing father who disrespects him and a drama-queen mother, drops out of college because he’s depressed and then enrolls in film school.
Writer-director Chase was an Italian kid who aged from 17 to 21 through the middle of the 1960s, drummed in a rock band in northern New Jersey, had an overbearing father who disrespected him and a drama-queen mother, dropped out of college (Wake Forest University) because he was depressed and enrolled in film school. I hope his life was less dull than the movie he’s made from it.
The picture trots out 1960s references as dutifully as a term paper bibliography: JFK’s assassination, civil rights marches, Vietnam, Martin Luther King Jr., the Summer of Love. (It ends, thankfully, before astronauts walk on the moon.)
People get high or get cancer or get carried away to mental institutions and hospitals, but we know too little about them to care. Interchangeably crabby, unhip parents and older relatives come and go. Interchangeably long-haired boys lust after girls and guitars.
The movie wants to have an elegiac tone, I guess, but never achieves one. Doug eventually gets to California and hears “the music of the future” (as a DJ puts it), and he realizes music has passed him by. Or maybe he’s passed through time and space: The film has multiple references to “The Twilight Zone,” and Doug is listening in 1968 to punk played by The Sex Pistols, who’d each have been about 12 years old at the time.
John Magaro and Bella Heathcote never rise above blandness as Doug and the girl he covets. Jack Huston has a bit more life as a self-destructive musician, but the movie often forgets about him for too long.
James Gandolfini, who won Emmys playing Tony Soprano, pays his old collaborator back with a nuanced performance as Doug’s dad. But his scenes remind us how unmemorable the rest of the film is: He’s a piece of garlic focaccia shoved into a loaf of Wonder bread.