This movie is the b-side you were happy to discover on the other side of the 45 record you bought for the big hit. And I discovered the movie the same way.
On the night they had the screening for critics of The Hobbit, they showed this movie in the afternoon. There were eight or nine people in the theatre and as a music lover — my eyes and ears were in heaven.
I have only seen three episodes of The Sopranos, and it didn’t do much for me. Everyone raved about it, so perhaps I need to give it another shot.
The creator of that has created a charming love letter to garage bands. I adored it.
This is David Chase’s first movie, and he returns to New Jersey. He brings along Soprano James Gandolfini, who plays a tough as nails father. It’s an interesting, layered character. He’s not just some square old man yelling and telling his son to “get a real job.”
After this and Gandolfini’s small role in Killing Them Softly – he’s really impressing me.
This story takes place in the ‘60s. I immediately thought we would see the cliché scenes we’ve seen in every ‘60s film – lava lamps, pot smoking, words like “groovy.” It baffles my mind that a movie with a fresh take on the music scene from that era could be done. It certainly helps that he brought another Soprano – Steven Van Zandt (from Bruce Springsteen’s band). This guy did a great radio show for years on garage bands, and his input was invaluable as the executive producer and musical supervisor. The soundtrack is the best I’ve heard since Cadillac Records. Instead of hearing Iron Butterfly or Janis Joplin, we were treated to The Kinks, Robert Johnson, Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon, John Mayall, and of course The Rolling Stones (their cover of Buddy Holly’s Not Fade Away is where the title comes from). They even show up at a party in the Hollywood hills. Sort of.
Music lovers will enjoy when they hear a small part of a song they know and love. One scene has a GTO roll up, and I head five seconds of Van Morrison’s TB Sheets. Who would have thought to use that song? (I am still confused by the inclusion of the Sex Pistol’s version of Road Runner at the end, though).
A group of middle class kids start a garage band. The shy drummer realizes he can get the attention of a girl he always had a crush on. The band quickly rises from playing parties for a handful of friends, to bigger halls and paying gigs. They see record contracts and fame and fortune like the Stones. But oh, those pesky “creative differences.”
First, the band thinks the drummer has a better voice. This moves the lead singer to just playing guitar, and this gives him an attitude that spirals downhill and threatens to destroy the band.
I was fascinated by how Chase wrote characters that might not be likable, or they have different sides to them. There’s nothing more frustrating then watching a movie with a screenplay where you see everything coming and each character is clearly labeled; he’s the bully. He’s the nice, shy guy. He’s the abusive father. Oh, why can’t more movies be written like this little gem, which I’m guessing will be lucky to make over a million dollars at the box office.
The older members of the cast you will know: Brad Garrett, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Christopher McDonald, and even Lisa Lampanelli. The young cast are actors I’ve never heard of. John Magaro, the drummer and future lead singer of The Lord Byrons (is that a cool name or what?), looks like a young Dylan with a dash of Syd Barrett. Fortunately for the Byrons, he has a great singing voice to go along with his lyrics. His girlfriend is played by Bella Heathcote (Dark Shadows). They have great chemistry, and I enjoyed how their conversations seemed so realistic and like kids. One time they’re in the snow, after the band has played, and she’s asking why he never talked to her in school. He immediately brings up the one conversation he had with her, word for word. It’s cute, and we’ve all been there. When they have a fight later (which I wouldn’t dream of spoiling), it’s also something we’ve all been through.
An example of the fresh takes this movie had, comes from the father/son relationship. Dad doesn’t storm in while they’re rehearsing saying “Turn this noise down! What happened to real music, like Dean Martin?”
They get in some fights that are a lot more intense. They have conversations that are powerful, once certain things are revealed. I was captivated watching the two on screen together.
There were so many scenes in this that I enjoyed. Just watching the band rehearse The Young Rascals I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore…happy that Chase went with this song, instead of say – Wild Thing, Wholly Bully, or Johnny B. Goode.
The movie was sloppy at times, certainly longer then it needed to be, and it was lightweight material overall; but it’s a must see for any music lover out there.
I’m giving it 3 ½ stars out of 5.