At the New York Film Festival screening of David Chase's marvelous first feature "Not Fade Away," I felt my spirits lift a little higher with each scene until, by the time the band finally performed an original song for the first time, I was soaring, the way you're supposed to do when you forget you're on the job because there's a real live movie on screen.
1. John Magaro does a magnificent transition from nerd to stud. He's a boy who discovers his sex appeal (and loses other things) the first time he steps to a microphone in front of a crowd. Will Brill as the toxic guitarist is both funny and detestable, Jack Huston breaks your heart as Eugene, the bad singer, and yes, Bella Heathcote is fine as The Girlfriend, but mostly she's just really pretty: Dominique Mcelliogott as her drug-addled sister steals every scene she's in.
2. From a shot of James Gandolfini barbecuing for his family to an off-the-cuff insult of the music scene on the Jersey Shore, the inevitable inside-joke drinking game could send all of us Chase/Van Zandt fans to the hospital. I happen to think that's a good thing.
3. Gandolfini's moving, layered performance as a regret-filled Depression-era father will still make you forget who Tony Soprano ever was.
4. The movie does end seven minutes past its real emotional endpoint, all in order to leave you on a "Goodfellas"-style perspective shift that I'm not sure works.
5. "Not Fade Away" is probably better suited for a seven season HBO series than for a movie. You want more and less at the same time.
6. The critics are getting hung up on the tension between those last two points and missing the best part: There is no nostalgia in this film, which is incredible, considering the subject matter. And it starts right away with the opening scene, which made this viewer hear "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," as if it were -- not the first time, but certainly no more than the fourth or fifth, which is perhaps even better.
In a story about what rock & roll meant and still means to young people, nothing matters more than recreating that teenaged feeling: You're half-crazed from hormones and longing, you think every song you hear was written for you and only you, you're miserable and self-conscious and angry and the only thing about it that makes it better than being old is that you are still stupid enough to believe, as one character Jagger-quotes to another early on, that time really is on your side.
The Q & A
It is in the nature of the post-screening Q&A to devolve into a forum for audience pontification, and the session following "Not Fade Away" was a Q&A to its core: Chase responded to one particularly long-winded interpretive theory with just the word "yes." EP/Music Supervisor/Rock God Steven Van Zandt, dashing as ever in purple shoes that matched both his shirt and his bandanna, wagged his fingers playfully at the crowd and said "you guys are good!"