All those years David Chase was getting rich off his mob soap opera, “The Sopranos,” what he really wanted to do was “get the band back together.”
“Not Fade Away,” his big-screen writing and directing debut, is the cinematic equivalent of a “memory play,” an impressionistic recollection of the ’60s, what it was like to discover rock ’n’ roll, to emulate your rock heroes, to embrace weed, grow your hair and infuriate your parents with your college-bred concern for civil rights, the Vietnam War and pursuit of dreams over career.
The problem is, nobody told Chase his memories of the era have long been clichés.
Douglas (John Magaro) is a Jersey Boy, an Italian-American drummer who sees the older boys getting attention from girls at his high school talent show and joins a band. Jack Huston is Gene, the handsome guitar hero whose ambitions are as limited as his singing. Will Brill is Wells, the pseudo-intellectual of the ensemble, which never really has a name, though they kick around the idea of calling themselves the Lord Byrons in those early days, just after the JFK assassination and the “British Invasion.”
They take their cues from the Rolling Stones, worshipping American blues. When they cover the movie’s Buddy Holly title song, they do it with “the Bo Diddley Beat,” in the manner of the Stones.
Chase’s film, narrated by Douglas’ younger sister (Meg Guzulescu), follows these guys through standard “Let’s start a band” mileposts —the first power struggle (Douglas becomes lead singer), defections and firings, countless gigs, recording a demo, meeting with a would-be manager (Brad Garrett). There’s a hint of college, and the coming-of-age off-and-on romance between Douglas and model-thin rich girl Grace (Bella Heathcoate).