Music not only serves as the subject but informs the very fabric of "Not Fade Away," David Chase's savvy '60s-set feature film debut. Aided immeasurably by his keen ear for dialogue, Chase filters a suddenly tumultuous, transformative decade through the restrictive prism of conservative suburbia in this story of a New Jersey boy's coming of age, as political instability, class awareness and rock 'n' roll break in waves over the still-inchoate consciousness of several friends trying to form a band. Though starless, save for James Gandolfini's knockout supporting perf, this dynamic pic should resonate with auds countrywide upon its Dec. 21 release… Chase often matches and sometimes even betters Cameron Crowe or Floyd Mutrux in granting present-tense immediacy to the rock 'n' roll on the soundtrack, never smothering it with hindsight.
Nick Schager, Village Voice
"Not Fade Away" treats its characters with just the right balance of gravity and sense of humor, respecting their earnest sincerity and yet pricking them for their prejudices and pretensions, a tonal balancing act that, concluding misstep aside, turns the material reflective without being cloying. That's never more apparent, or affecting, than in a quiet dinner shared between father and son that, in Pat's revelations about past romances, beautifully conveys the material's simultaneously sad and hopeful - and, thus, mature - belief that, for better and worse, some loves must be lost so that others may be found.
Daniel Walber, Film School Rejects
It is not the responsibility of "Not Fade Away" to articulate the ups and downs of one of the nation’s most complicated decades. It is at its best when it knows this, looking closely at the life of its protagonist and his love of music. Yet when it tries to confront anything larger it runs into problems. Whether that ambition is in the relationships between band members or the impact of the great social unrest of the ‘60s, it falls flat. And, in a way, perhaps that belies the film’s very understanding of the music it so loves. This is the decade in which American popular music became political and took an active role in the struggles of the time. Not Fade Away would rather just dance. And not think about what it all means.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
"Not Fade Away" is a richly contextualized snapshot of changing social dynamics, examining the conflict between traditional values of security and stability and the restless hunger for creative fulfillment. Politics and the civil rights movement are part of the movie’s backdrop, but its depiction of the fumbling search for personal and artistic freedom is shaped as much by pop culture. Books, movies, television and especially music supply the juice here, dipping into everything from The Twilight Zone to Antonioni.
Richard Corliss, Time
Maybe Chase wants to point out the selfishness of the young, their obsession with breaking free, their love of precisely those things that their parents hate. In that case the movie should have brought some definition, uniqueness, to Doug. One adult tells him, “You’re a walking cliché,” but Chase doesn’t feel obliged to bring the truism to pulsing life. That’s what makes Not Fade Away painful, but not in a good way. A glimpse into the ’60s should give us not just the warm bath of recognition but the shock of the new, as least as it felt in days of old. That doesn’t happen, in a movie that evokes less empathy than apathy.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire:
Relishing the sights and sounds of the early '60s with a self-indulgence that makes "Mad Men" look restrained, "The Sopranos" creator David Chase's feature debut "Not Fade Away" reaches for a grand statement about the period's intergenerational tensions and instead simply channels nostalgia. Loaded with clips of TV hits and rock singles to supplement the struggles of a college-age Jersey kid looking to get out, "Not Fade Away" is easy on the eyes and ears but light on new ideas. It's a period piece composed of familiar pieces, none of which have much to say beyond surface elements that have been explored countless times before. Using a typical coming-of-age mold, Chase turns cultural ephemera into formula.
Kris Tapley, In Contention:
It's an era Chase captures with joy and passion in a film both funny and, at times, profound. Indeed, the theme of the film, Chase said in a post-screening press conference, is the conflict between security and freedom,..The final assemblage is a mostly crisp and tight offering that nevertheless sports a wild side, the director finding interesting ways to use his camera (on a cymbal, in the reflection of a sheered-off side-view mirror) but also delicately finding intimacy with his characters (a number of close-ups, particularly on Magro and co-star Bella Heathcote as they watch "Touch of Evil" together, really stuck out as unique).
Zeba Blay, Digital Spy
"Not Fade Away" is a passionate movie, perhaps a little self-indulgent. Ultimately, the narrative is too overwhelmed by all that it wants to say. Chase described the story as being about "the conflict between freedom and security". It's a struggle Chase must have confronted in the making of the film, which constantly toes the line between wild visual and narrative abandon and the safe, formulaic tropes that usually go into coming-of-age tales. And yet despite its lack of focus, "Not Fade Away" still manages to capture something less wistful and more joyful than nostalgia - the essence of an era through its music.