What happens to all those bands, formed by teenagers with big hair and big dreams, that aren’t quite good enough? “Not Fade Away,” the feature-film debut of “The Sopranos” creator David Chase, tells the (fictional) story of one of those bands, formed by a group of high-school boys in early-’60s New Jersey and initially called The Twylight Zones. A few years pass and life changes, but they’re still practicing in the same wood-paneled basement, waiting for the break that might never come.
Douglas (John Magaro), the band’s moody drummer, is this story’s focus. A skinny, jittery kid with a mop of dark curls (it gets bigger as the movie — and the decade — progresses), he’s got an intense stage presence and an oddly fuzzy, slightly metallic voice that eventually finds its way to a microphone. He’s perpetually at war with his old-school father (James Gandolfini) and overwrought mother (Molly Price), who want him to focus on college and practicalities. “The band is my true family,” he tells them — but in time, that “true family” gets just as fractured.
“Not Fade Away” often feels more like a collection of effective moments than a coherent whole; the story sprawls quickly over several years and you feel as if some characters and conflicts get short shrift. (A whole separate movie could be made about sad-eyed Joy, played by Dominique McElligott, for whom the ’60s weren’t kind.) But the performances and music are a pleasure, and Chase’s affection for the period is palpable. At the end, the camera lazily swirls around Doug, a Jersey kid who’s found himself in an unexpected place. It feels just right to leave him there, with the rest of his story not yet written.
Moira Macdonald: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-2725.
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