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Review: Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys
06.18.2014
7 10

PLOT: The (mostly) true story of The Four Seasons, four guys from New Jersey who – in the fifties and sixties – were one of the biggest bands around, before their inevitable fall from grace.

REVIEW: When I heard Clint Eastwood was directing the feature adaptation of the Broadway musical JERSEY BOYS, I was both intrigued and skeptical. No one could ever deny that Eastwood is a legend (both behind and in-front of the camera) but this seemed outside of his wheelhouse. Then again, some of his best movies as a director were about music (most notably BIRD) and the guy usually composes his own soundtracks, so he knows a thing or two about it, even if pop music is something he never seemed to have an interest in.

Having never seen the Broadway show, I can't say how faithful Eastwood is or isn't, but it's worth noting that this isn't a musical, but rather a straightforward musical biopic. It's like THAT THING YOU DO! with f-bombs (and yes, I'm aware The Wonders were not a real band). I should preface this by saying I'm a big Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons fan – the result of a year spent working at a classic rock station – so this is probably more up my alley than for most contemporary, younger web critics.

JERSEY BOYS gets a lot of things right, even if it does get a few things wrong. For one, the cast is perfect. John Lloyd Young played Valli on Broadway, and he's incredible in the part, effortlessly hitting his trademark falsetto's and sounding so much like the real thing I had to check the press notes to make sure he wasn't overdubbed (he wasn't – everyone does their own singing). Despite the fact that each of the four members of the band gets a turn narrating by addressing the camera Scorsese-style, the fact that this is Valli's story is easy to see. Even after the band falls apart, we follow Valli through the turbulent early years of his solo career and personal tragedies, and once his story is resolved, the movie is done.

Everyone else is relatively peripheral, except fellow band-member Tommy DeVito, played by BOARDWALK EMPIRE's Lucky Luciano – Vincent Piazza. A fast-talking wannabe wiseguy, DeVito seems like he's walked out of a Scorsese movie, which is appropriate. It's interesting to note that none other than Joe Pesci is actually a minor character here, as he was so close to the guys in his early days that his GOODFELLAS character is named (tada!) Tommy DeVito! Sure enough, DeVito is presented like a somewhat less homicidal version of that character, and a typical – if very amusing – gangster movie type. The other guys, Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi and Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio, seem well-suited to their parts even if they take a backseat most of the time.

In a smart move, Christopher Walken is perfectly cast as a benevolent local wiseguy with a soft-spot for talent. Walken gets a lot of laughs exploiting the character's softer side, which includes him comically breaking down in tears upon hearing Valli sing a schmaltzy ballad. Casting-wise, JERSEY BOYS is just about perfect. Eastwood also gives this a snappier pace than usual. While he's still not the ideal director for the material (Martin Scorsese would be the logical choice) he still mostly pulls this off, even if there are a few weirdly artificial moments, including some bad process shots of characters driving that seem lifted out of a sixties beach movie, and (just like in J.EDGAR) some truly awful old-age makeup in the finale, which makes the guys (who should only be middle-aged) look grotesque. It's odd these minor things weren't tweaked. And along with a few awkward slides into melodrama, they keep this from really cooking, although it's always at least pretty good.

It's also worth noting that Eastwood mostly avoids any Broadway-style numbers, with all the singing done where it makes sense in the story, such as in the studio, or while performing on shows like Ed Sullivan. He only gives-us a full-on “number” during the end credits, which just may be the liveliest sequence he's directed in years, with everyone taking a curtain call for a reprise of “December 1963 (Oh What a Night!)”. Walken even dances a bit. It almost makes you wish the entire movie had been done in this fashion, although it may not have been able to sustain a film.

So, while JERSEY BOYS certainly doesn't reinvent the musical biopic, it's nonetheless a satisfying entry into the genre and one of Clint Eastwood's better recent movies. If you're a fan of the band, than obviously this is a no-brainer (older audiences should flock to this) but even if you've never heard of them, it's still an interesting little piece of pop music history and well-worth checking out.

Extra Tidbit: Props to Clint for giving himself an ingenious cameo.
Source: JoBlo.com

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