David Chase's Not Fade Away evokes the '60s rock & roll revolution with its story of a garage band trying to make it. But it's James Gandolfini's stoic dad who really stands out in the film.
Gandolfini, who died on Wednesday of a heart attack, pretty much reprises his Tony Soprano character as Pat, just without the menace. He's a square who disapproves of his son's long hair and anti-war opinions.
Doug (John Magaro) and his friends start off playing British Invasion covers, then begin writing their own songs. There's some strife within the band when Doug, their drummer, takes over vocals from guitarist Eugene (Jack Huston) and when he learns his girlfriend Grace (Bella Heathcote) has been practicing free love with another band member. They audition for a producer who tells them to pay their dues by playing Village dive bars until they're ready. Instead, Doug and Grace take off for L.A., where the story ends.
One scene is particularly striking, since it foreshadows Gandofini's death. Pat and Doug have a lobster dinner, during which dad reveals an infidelity. Pat has a big appetite and keeps ordering more drinks. Gradually he softens up to Doug's aspirations and even gives him money for the ride west.
This is quintessential Gandolfini - he's Archie Bunker with a vulnerable side, just like he displayed as Tony Soprano. The only differences are the eras and he's not playing a sociopath. Gandolfini's droopy eyes and mumbled delivery were trademarks of an actor who had his own distinct, memorable style.
Not Fade Away faded away quickly at the box office when it was released late last year. It's dark and humorless. But the soundtrack is terrific, and Gandolfini, in one of his last roles, is great.