"THE SOPRANOS" creator David Chase has made his first theatrical movie, "Not Fade Away" - it's about New Jersey and about rock and roll, and it's clear he loves one of those things.
Chase grew up in North Jersey in the 1960s before taking off for California and another life, and he's turned "Not Fade Away" into a coming-of-age story that's obviously drawn from his own experiences as an artistically-minded kid growing up in straight-laced suburban town with a family that didn't really get him.
This dynamic expresses itself in music - the movie's protagonist is a teen (John Magaro) who listens to blues and the blues by way of the Rolling Stones (a motif here). He learns the drums, starts playing in a local band at local venues, and even meets with a record producer.
The movie is steeped in rock, but filmed and plotted like jazz - impressionistic, non-linear, like a much grittier and downbeat version of "That Thing You Do": the fraught band dynamics (with Jack Huston, Will Brill), his relationship with a pretty, local girl (Bella Heathcote).
The strongest polarity in the movie exists between the boy and his father (James Gandolfini), a parts salesman whose antagonism toward his hair-growing, education-eschewing son is rooted at least partly in envy - he knows the boy has ahead of him the life that he never got to live.
Gandolfini is a vivid presence in the movie - he calls attention to the lack of impact of some of the younger performers in front of the camera. In early moments, the movie works best when the band is on stage, when music carries the picture.
There are stretches when Chase's stuff-happens narrative makes "Not Fade Away" feel haphazard - in that way, it echoes the way "The Sopranos" frustrated those looking for conventional plot mechanics (right until the end).
But the movie ends strongly - Magaro's character finally in Los Angeles, his future entirely unmapped, his soul entirely satisfied. He stumbles out of a party without his date or his car - no idea where he is, but convinced he's in exactly the right place.