If you look closely enough at his IMDb entry, you’ll notice that David Chase, the longtime television writer who developed, wrote and produced HBO’s monumental hit “The Sopranos,” spent his early life in New Jersey playing drums and bass in rock bands.
Music didn’t work out for him.
Instead he bought a movie camera, studied film at the Tisch School of Arts at New York University and later at Stanford, then began writing for network TV dramas such as “The Rockford Files.”
Of course, when you create a mega-hit like “The Sopranos,” you do get to make a film — in this case his feature debut so many, many years after film school.
“Not Fade Away” concerns those early years as a so-so musician in so-so rock bands. Which right away means a refreshing look at rock ‘n’ roll.
Take just about any music biopic or movie about rock musicians and you get a singer or a garage band that discovers fame and fortune, then deals with all the troubles — drugs, groupies, failed family lives — that success brings. This, then, is something new — a movie about all those who never made it big.
Like many a semi-autobiographical piece, even say Dickens’ “David Cooperfield,” where a writer draws from his own life, characters and events don’t fall into place with the rigor of a polished script following those 10-Step Programs of Good Screenwriting.
Chase wants to tell you about the girl he had such a crush on but, oh wait, he wants to mention her crazy sister whom her parents had committed or the odd incident involving the band mate who … well, you get the picture.
The movie jerks you from this story line to that so you never comfortably settle into the movie. Plus loads of period rock music dominating the background drown out far too much dialogue.
A fine young actor named John Magaro, with no major credits until this film, plays Chase’s alter ego, Douglas. Like any ’60s-era kid worth his salt, he quarrels aimlessly with his conservative (i.e., they hate his long hair) parents, barely tolerates school yet dotes on music and a girlfriend, Grace (Australian actress Bella Heathcote).
The music from his radio — and perhaps the realization that girls are into guys who play rock — compels this suburban Jersey guy to form a band with best friends Eugene (Jack Huston from “Boardwalk Empire”), Wells (Will Brill) and later, Joe (Brahm Vaccarella).
He takes pride in his music and is more than a little pretentious about it.
There is an amusing scene where a talent scout from a major label takes a meeting with the band in a restaurant and sternly advises them to learn a few cover songs, play for a living in clubs for a year and then call him again.
But the movie drifts awkwardly at times. “Not Fade “Away” often feels like a pilot for a series, establishing story lines and characters for a season to come. But as a feature, an overly long feature at that, it has no time to resolve any of this.
For all the film’s many scenes, for instance, the hero’s relationships with his girl and band mates are sketchy at best. Things get even sketchier in his relationship with her family including a druggie/hippie sister (Dominique McElligott) and the generation-gap melodrama between him and his frustrated dad (James Gandolfini, very good given that he is asked to play such a cliché).
Then Chase wants to acknowledge at least the zeitgeist — Vietnam, the civil rights movement, student radicalism — so the movie overflows with references meaningful to viewers his age but not to any audience below 30.
Other references are simply puzzling. The film sometimes mentions Rod Serling and music from “The Twilight Zone” is heard in the background. This is coupled with the occasional voiceover by Douglas’ kid sister (Meg Guzulescu), who otherwise is a peripheral character.
Then there’s a baffling coda at the picture’s end involving his sister as a Serling-esque commentator that feels deeply inconsistent with the film you’ve just seen.
Chase nicely situates the story in its era with an early dramatized scene out of the Rolling Stones’ history, then music by the Beatles, Bo Diddley, the Kinks, Bob Dylan and classic blues from Leadbelly and Howlin’ Wolf drifts from radios and jukeboxes.
The band’s original songs are fun, all done under the supervision of Steven Van Zandt. The music is almost good enough — but not quite given the outpouring of musical talent in the fabulous era.
Opens: December 21, 2012 (Paramount Pictures)
Production companies: Paramount Vantage and Indian Paintbrush present in association with The Weinstein Co. a Gran Via/Chase Films production
Cast: John Magaro, Jack Huston, Will Brill, Bella Heathcote, Brad Garrett, Christopher McDonald, James Gandolfini, Brahm Vaccarella, Meg Guzulescu
Director/screenwriter: David Chase
Producers: Mark Johnson, David Chase
Executive producers: Steven Rales, Mark Roybal, Steven Van Zandt, Kerry Orent
Director of photography: Eigil Bryid
Production designer: Ford Wheeler
Music supervisor: Steven Van Zandt
Costume designer: Catherine Marie Thomas
Editor: Sidney Wolinsky
R rating, 112 minutes