David Chase, best known for creating The Sopranos, takes a turn directing in this snapshot of the life of a college aged musician in the 60s. Doug (John Magaro) and a few of his friends (Jack Huston, Will Brill) in New Jersey form a rock group and hope to make it big. Doug’s father (James Gandolfini) does not approve of these aspirations. Life, college, girls, booze and drugs all play a part in their journey of self discovery and their attempts to establish themselves as legitimate musicians in New York City in the wake of the British invasion.
More of a glancing look at an era than a compelling narrative, this film takes the time period really seriously from the details of wardrobe and cars, to the specifics of certain types of guitars and records. Though it’s a drama with a few comedic moments, perhaps you will find this movie hilarious. The obnoxious gentleman seated beside me at the Arclight Hollywood certainly did. In fact, I think he found it funnier than any movie has ever been before. Comedic efforts aside, there are a plethora of things about this movie that stink.
1. Confusing and unnecessary voiceover that adds nothing to the plot.
Seriously, what is this about? The voiceover is provided by the younger sister of the main character, and illuminates exactly nothing. In the end there’s a little heartfelt speech from her about whether America would choose nuclear power or rock and roll to save them then she does a little dance and it’s not at all Jerry Horne’s memories of his sexy babysitter doing the flashlight dance in Twin Peaks, but instead is seriously uncomfortable and borderline stupid.
2. Meandering and unmotivated plot.
Some music is played. Some girls are kissed. Some guys get into fights about music and girls. Some people get sick, some get better, some don’t. Life, man. Life. Why should we care about any of these people? Crummy parents and grumpy kids. The people who do seem to have a heart end up getting shafted but not even in a very intentional way, just in sort of a casualties of suburban war way.
3. Two hour running time.
Two hours. Two American hours. Two full-length American hours of your short and sad life, gone into the ether. Not Fade Away? More Like Indelibly Etched Forever. Though the movie doesn’t feel long, you’re about ready to Hulk out of your skin when you find out that nothing is ever going to happen and you’ve just tacitly agreed to it all by sitting through it.
4. The abominably stupid ending.
Ending is a misnomer. This movie doesn’t “end” it simply stops happening and mostly feels as if they couldn’t really figure out hot to end the movie so they just gave up. There’s no resolution, there’s nothing that comes of any of the longing, the yearning and striving. As a result, the entire enterprise, while enjoyable and interesting, makes you feel a bit like a kid visiting relatives at Christmastime, squashed in between your Uncle Charlie and the edge of the couch as he shows you picture album after picture album with snapshots of him and your dad as teenagers, playing rock ‘n’ roll. Your dad wanders over and the two of them air guitar it for a while as you sullenly sit there, both of them telling you how much you don’t know about rock, as you gallantly try to care about stories you’ve heard second hand a hundred times over.
There’s also a few things about this movie that don’t stink.
1. John Magaro
Magaro’s performance as the wry, musically minded Douglas keep this one from careening into the weeds. Magaro is a highly intuitive actor, who never falters, but instead seems to feel the movement of the performances around him and bolster up others with his own effortless work. Magaro might be perfect for a Bob Dylan doc as with a bit of tweaking, he could pull off the famous musician’s characteristics quite well.
2. Bella Heathcote and Jack Huston.
Lumped in together since they were criminally under used by Chase. Huston steals every scene he’s in, even with the weak direction, and Heathcote’s luminous skin is the sort of thing that sends Lancome into a wild rage, wishing to bottle the essence of youth and sell it to the olds. Lest it be said that we only praise women for their looks and men for their acting, Heathcote does much with the little work she is given, guiding the course of events with her mere presence. (How sad and sweet to ask the boy you love if he believes in you, only to have the questions skated over hastily.)
3. A few moments here and there.
There’s a few moments of real tenderness in the film, between Magaro and Heathcote certainly, and unexpectedly from James Gandolfini, in quiet revelations and unobserved realizations, but overall the film tends to stick to blunt and dramatic turns of events.
Anyway, go see it if 1) you’re old and lived through it all the first time, just so you can either enjoy it or rail against it, 2) you like anybody who is in it, but even then, seriously, you never get to see enough of anyone you actually want to see other than Magaro, or 3) I don’t know, you’re the world’s biggest David Chase fan/completist, 4) you just like movies and especially movies about the ’60s.