Douglas (John Magaro) is a young high school student who lives with his mother, his father Pat (James Gandolfini), and younger sister Evelyn (Meg Guzulescu). A normal high school student growing up the '60s, Douglas confesses to Pat that when he goes off to college he plans on joining the ROTC something which makes his father very proud. However, everything changes when Douglas hears The Beatles on the radio rock n’ roll music has a profound impact on his life.
Outside a music store, Douglas meets a fellow student with an interest in rock named Wells (Will Brill), who has started a band with one of Douglas’ schoolmates, Eugene (Jack Huston). Watching them perform at school, Douglas finds himself drawn to Grace Dietz (Bella Heathcote) who is entranced by the band’s music.
At the breakfast table, Douglas’ mother explains that she had a nightmare; she dreamed that a colored boy was chasing her across the yard illustrating the deep-seated prejudice of the times. Across town, Joy Dietz (Dominique McElligott) Grace’s sister mouths off to their father, Jack (Christopher McDonald), about the recent assassination of JFK by saying that she wants to go down and participate in the civil rights walks. Jack points out that it’s a clever dodge of her plummeting GPA.
While attending a party, Douglas sees Grace making out with her boyfriend and is crestfallen. He leaves with Eugene and Wells to talk about how much he loves Grace and can’t impress her if he’s not in a band or an athlete. Eugene explains that they never invited him to join the band because they had the best drummer at the school. A few days pass and Eugene approaches Douglas to join the band because their drummer’s poor grades forced the drummer’s father to send the boy into the marines. With an open slot, Douglas joins the band. They practice together and start to nail down some great covers. While Eugene sings and plays guitar, Wells plays bass and Douglas picks up the drums.
Douglas goes off to college, and when he returns home, he’s rocking a longer mop of hair and a black pea coat. When his father sees Douglas, he’s disgusted saying that Douglas looks like he came right off the boat at Ellis Island. He storms away, leaving Douglas’ mother to point out that Pat keeps working at the store to support Douglas, and he has certain expectations expectations that Douglas isn’t meeting in pursuit of rock n' roll.
At a basement party, Eugene, Douglas, and Wells are smoking with two auxiliary band members. Eugene swallows his joint and ends up leaving the party despite the fact that they need to perform. Douglas decides to sing lead vocals and catches Grace’s eye. The next morning, Pat is reading the paper when Douglas comes in. He mouths off about Vietnam and the state of the world and their argument quickly becomes physical until Pat has Douglas by the collar. He leaves quickly.
After another show in the Dietz’ basement, Douglas is smoking outside and ends up talking with Grace. She tells him that time is on his side, before walking back inside. He walks around the house and wanders into Joy’s room where she is trying to move a table. She conscripts him to help and tells Douglas that Grace went to a diner with some people. Joy thinks Douglas’ obsession with Grace is amusing, but Douglas just wants to talk about records. She tells him that she is moving and shows some of her art abstract paintings of her father.
The band plays another show, and after, Grace and Douglas go for a walk along the beach at night. Grace says that when Douglas sings with Eugene the songs work without Douglas the songs fall apart. Douglas asks Grace about Joy and implies that Joy might be a little mentally unstable. At a practice with the band, Eugene tells them that it is time for them to cut their first demo for 200 dollars suggesting that if they are not ready now they never will be. Wells points out that line of thinking is a fallacy, and that they could be more ready in the future when Douglas interrupts to say that he could sing the song better. Eugene is caught off guard by this, but Wells agrees. The band votes and decides to switch out Douglas and Eugene. Soon after, Douglas and Grace grow closer and have sex.
Christmastime: Pat decorates the tree and the family gathers around it. Presents are handed out, but Douglas does not receive one when he presents Pat with a present, Pat says that the deal stands; he didn’t get Douglas anything and doesn’t want anything Douglas offers him. That night at the family dinner, the matter becomes clear because Douglas quit college, Pat didn’t think it was right for him to be rewarded at Christmastime. Douglas tries to justify it by saying that he needs to focus on his music career.
As Douglas and Grace’s relationship grows more serious, Wells pulls Douglas aside to tell him that Grace used to blow him during their senior year of high school and that she was blowing other guys too for a while after that. This upsets Douglas who realizes that was around the time that she told him that time was on his side. She tells him that it’s not any of his business, and the two have a falling out. Meanwhile, Joy experiments with LSD and her connections to reality are slowly coming apart going so far as to wear lemons around her neck as a necklace. Jack notices her increasingly erratic behavior and grills Grace about Joy’s drug use. One day, Joy visits Grace and Jack calls a mental hospital to have Joy committed. She’s drugged and taken away while Grace is left crying in the hospital waiting room.
Douglas’ mother walks into the kitchen and finds Pat looking at some papers. He has cancer an incredibly rare form of lymphoma. He tells her that he’s going to go to the Lahey Clinic in Boston for treatment.
The band plays a show in public and Eugene surprises everyone by taking out magnesium flares and juggling them in a very dangerous fashion until one flare falls and burns his scalp. After the show, Wells makes it clear that Eugene has got to go. He and Douglas go to Eugene’s house to kick him out of the band, but Wells runs away leaving Douglas to do it alone. He and Eugene argue and Eugene attacks him screaming that Douglas took advantage of the night Eugene swallowed the joint to steal Eugene’s fucking life. Eugene’s father storms into the basement and breaks up the fight. Douglas leaves. That night, Grace walks through her sister’s old room and collects the old records only to find Douglas on her front steps. At their mutual low points, the hug and make up.
At a family lunch for Evelyn’s birthday, Douglas tells everyone that he is thinking of moving to LA and re-enrolling in school to take some film classes while he continues his music career. He mentions that Grace is transferring to UCLA with a friend. They’d be leaving together. This doesn’t go over very well. Soon after, Evelyn and Douglas’ mother leave to go out together, and Pat approaches Douglas about what has to happen when he dies.
That night, Douglas and his father sit down at a restaurant. Pat regales Douglas with a story about how when he spent a few weeks in the Lahey clinic, he met another patient, Kate, who had the exact same type of cancer as him. Only 60 people in the U.S. were diagnosed with that kind of cancer. Pat confesses that for a few days, he serious considered leaving Douglas’ mother to be with Kate as he thought he had fallen in love.
Wells and Douglas are approached by the man who recorded their demo with Eugene. The man passed along the demo, and a record manager wants to hear the boys audition in Manhattan. The band approach Eugene about him returning into the fold and he says he will play the audition, but they will have to say “with Special Guest Gene Gaunt.” Grace drives Douglas to his audition with the manager (Brad Garrett) and listens to the song from outside in the car. After the meeting, the manager gives the boys a list of songs and tells them that they will need to cut their teeth and pay their dues like everyone else playing the clubs and playing covers to build up a fan base. Then in two years they can call him again to get their start.
Eugene and Wells meet in private, and Eugene asks if there is any hope of rejoining the band, but Wells makes it clear that it’s not a good idea. However, they decide to remain friends. Wells admires Eugene’s motorcycle and Eugene allows him to take it for a ride. While Wells drives, Eugene fools around with a football. When Wells returns on the bike, Eugene fakes a pass distracting Wells long enough for him to hit a post and go flying into a tree. He survives the impact but is confined to a hospital bed for a few weeks squashing any chance of the band succeeding or playing shows.
The day of the big move finally arrives. He packs up a car with Grace, and they are about to drive away when Pat runs after him. He slides a couple hundred bucks into Douglas’ hands and tells him to keep his mouth shut about the gesture. The couple arrives in LA and Douglas meets Grace’s friend. That night at the beach, Grace asks if he believes in her and Douglas tells her absolutely. At a party, he loses track of her she starts shaking and throwing up since someone slipped her some new synthetic drug. He looks around for her but cannot find her instead seeing Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones. He walks towards the bathroom to look for her, but there’s a line Mick Jagger is apparently having an orgy with a few girls. Douglas suspects that Grace is one of the girls and leaves with her friend to get a late night meal, distraught. The friend tells Douglas that Grace wouldn’t cheat on him she probably couldn’t find him and left. Grace had told the friend that Douglas believes in her something no one had ever done before.
Douglas tries to hitch a ride back to his place, but the first car to stop has a girl and a guy in it. The girl says he looks lonely and tells him to get in, and after a moment he decides not to. Instead, he walks off into the night. Evelyn walks into frame and comments that she was writing a paper to recount the story of her brother’s youth and mentions that America gave the world two of its most powerful weapons: Nuclear Weapons and Rock n’ Roll. The question is which will endure. She then starts dancing in the street.
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