David Chase’s feature film debut is a love letter to both rock and roll and New Jersey in the 1960s. Best known as the creator of HBO’s The Sopranos, Chase moves away from the Mafia-related story, but stays in the familiar territory of familial struggles and cultural upheaval.
Douglas, played by John Magaro, goes from being a shy drummer and backup singer in an unknown band to its lead singer and an aspiring songwriter. As he comes out of his shell, he struggles with both his working-class father and the wealthier families in his community. One of its privileged daughters, Grace, played by Bella Heathcote, is initially unattainable for Douglas. He has no idea what he is getting into when the band achieves a bit of local fame and he begins to date the girl he thought was out of his league.
There are moments that the alluring Heathcote takes center stage and it almost seems as if she becomes the main character, but ultimately the featured music is the protagonist and Magaro and his bandmates are in its service. As the Music Supervisor, Steven Van Zandt purportedly had more than $2 million in the budget, which has resulted in a fantastic soundtrack.
The story begins and ends looking in on music store windows, and as much as the furniture and cars are authentic 1960s, it is the Rickenbacker guitar and Gretsch drum kit that actually transport you back.
Some will go to see this movie curious to see something by David Chase on the big screen. Others will want to see James Gandolfini, who plays Douglas’ overbearing father, in one of his last films before his recent unexpected death. Whether it is one of these things that draws you in, or if you are nostalgic for pop music of the 1960s, you will not be disappointed.