Not Fade Away

Directed by David Chase

Opens Jan. 4

If you got into

The Sopranos


on Home Box,

a lot of this flick will feel like familiar territory, albeit crime- and stripper-free: New Jersey, Italian-Americans, unhappy families, James Gandolfini, derogatory remarks with respect to race and sexual affiliation, "who's makin' the antipast," blah, blah, etc. But this time,


creator David Chase focuses on something he seems to care about a lot and which was part of the success of

The Sopranos

-the music, in this case, rock and rock-influencing stuff: James Brown, Bo Diddley, Lead Belly, Robert Johnson, the Rolling Stones, the Rascals, and, uh, the soundtrack from

South Pacific

, because, in David Chase productions, a television is always on someplace.

Set in the Viet Nam-era '60s, we follow several years in the lives of high school pals who don't know too much yet about who they are (and probably how they will remain friends) as they decide to start a band and be famous after hearing the Beatles and the Stones. John Magaro stars as Douglas, a kid who burns with envy when he watches the band at the school talent show, and double-burns when he sees the chicks the guys in the band pull just because they are on a stage, he thinks. Comely Bella Heathcote (last seen in Tim Burton's

Dark Shadows

) plays Grace, a girl who wants to do whatever the hell it was the damn kids wanted to do in the '60s with the foreign films and the pot, Jesus Christ, and she is a growing part of Douglas' motivation to croon and grow his hair out to a Bob Dylan mop. James Gandolfini doesn't stretch much besides his waistline as paterfamilias Pat, who runs a Pep Boys auto-parts store and is a classic blue-collar casual bigot/homophobe of the era, foiled only by his daughter Evelyn (the talented Meg Guzulescu), a teenager with just a little bit too much politically aware, screenwriter-supplied dialogue to be not in a movie.

Ultimately, even though it seems like there are too many beginnings and too many endings to this thing, in between is an engrossing drama with strong performances all the way around, particularly Jack Huston-half of whose face has been on display on HBO's

Boardwalk Empire

-some minor scene-stealing by Dominique McElligott (from AMC's


Hell on Wheels

) as an arty bohemian hell-bent on Greenwich Village, and a nice little bit part by foul-mouthed comedienne Lisa Lampanelli. Mr. Chase delivers a well-controlled and surprisingly not-depressing story about real life behind the music.