It's no secret that David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos, harbors plenty of affection for the bygone days of working-class New Jersey and rock 'n' roll, or how interested he is in mining the uneasy relationships between fathers and sons. So little surprise that Chase makes his big-screen directorial debut with this period dramedy, set in the 1960s, about a teen-age guy from suburban New Jersey who puts a rock band together in the depths of the Generation Gap.
Doug (John Magrao) and his high school pals (including a full-faced Jack Huston, last seen as disfigured and masked war vet Harrow on Boardwalk Empire) love the blues and blues-inspired rock, and dutifully bang away on guitars and drums at basement parties. As history checks off familiar moments — JFK, Beatles, marijuana, Vietnam, long hair, Martin Luther King Jr., Hendrix — Doug navigates the personal: girls, angry dad (James Gandolfini), feuding bandmates. But Doug's coming-of-age story, which traverses the 1960s, fails to achieve much self-awareness or growth
While occasionally amusing, the film is a mess, with thinly sketched characters and unresolved plots that no amount of vintage Fenders can fix. It feels like a series of set pieces that never coalesce around a whole or a point. Except maybe: "Hey, growing up in the '60s! Remember?" Thus, its slim charms are best enjoyed by nostalgic Boomers who have yet to tire of seeing the same old 1960s tropes depicted.
On the upside, Chase must have spent a fortune on music clearances; the film doesn't scrimp on songs (and TV clips) by The Beatles, Rolling Stones and many other '60s hitmakers. And real-life vet of New Jersey bands Steven Van Zandt pens a couple of serviceable pop-garage tunes for the lads to sing.
But oh, the last few minutes of this film are so very bad. Some folks went ballistic about Chase's minimalist ending of The Sopranos, but the one here — with extra explaining — is even worse. So here's a free tip: When Charlie Watts appears on screen, leave the theater.