Rock and roll proves the coming-of-age crucible in Not Fade Away, Sopranos creator David Chase's semiautobiographical feature debut of shaggy hair, shagadelic beauties, and the joy and sorrow wrought from chasing and failing to achieve one's dreams. Chase's tale of showbiz striving has, in its basic form, been told before: a suburban kid rebelling against his stuck-in-their-ways working-class parents by endeavoring to become a star, in this case in 1960s New Jersey. Yet writer/director Chase distinguishes his material through a careful attention to emotional rhythms, crosscutting between songs and images like a skillful maker of mix tapes. That sort of confidence is indicative of his overall craftsmanship; he subtly intertwines guitar riffs and heated passions and communicates through graceful camerawork the confusion, elation, and turmoil felt by his lead, Douglas (John Magaro), a golf course ditch-digger who dream of banging the skins in the band of his friends Eugene (Jack Huston) and Wells (Will Brill). That goal is realized once the outfit's original drummer takes off to Vietnam. Everything then gets complicated by internal band strife and increased conflict at home between Douglas and his father, Pep Boys employee Pat (James Gandolfini). The latter is disgusted by his progeny's poofy hair, high heels, and disdain for earning a living (and Vietnam); the former is defiant toward his father's casual intolerance and status quo attitude. If Not Fade Away seems intentionally minor and formulaic, something like a David Chase B side, it is energized by a shrewd wistfulness that honors the nastiness and absurdity of the era. It's especially smart about the way that generational clashes and the tragedy they sometimes inspired were born from a joint fear and confusion over shifting tides no one quite understood how to handle.
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