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Jersey Boys (Review)

"Jersey Boys is a real treat on the big screen."  

 

 

 

 

Review by Steve Pulaski

Clint Eastwood's Jersey Boys is about what you'd expect from a biopic concerning the formation, rise, and eventual demise of the pop and rock vocal group of The Four Seasons. After years of having a successful run on stage, Jersey Boys' treatment on film is ostensibly questionable, until one dives into the experience and finds richness in its musicality and performances, incalculable beauty in its set design and art direction, and overall satisfaction in the presentation and delivery of its story.

The film, at first, concerns Frankie Castelluccio and Tommy DeVito (John Lloyd Young and Vincent Piazza), two teenagers growing up in Belleville, New Jersey in 1951. Frankie and Tommy are your quintessential Italian teens, constantly hanging out at diners, harmonizing under a street lamp late at night, or conducting petty crimes that seem to always find new ways to go awry. Tommy explains to us by breaking the fourth wall that the local prison has figurative "revolving doors" and that every time you were entering, you'd see somebody leaving or vice-versa, and most of them were guaranteed to be back on another offense.

When one member of Tommy's band gets locked up, Tommy decides to allow Frankie into the trio, which also includes Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda). The three have strong success at local dive-ins, somewhat because of their nice-guy appearances but mostly because of Frankie's incredible voice, which seems to hit and effect every single soul in the room. Eventually, by adding a friend named Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) to the band, "The Variety Trio" as it was known becomes "The Four Lovers," and then eventually "The Four Seasons." The band goes on to reach landmark success with three national number-one-hit-songs consecutively, those being the infectious and hummable "Sherry," the empowering "Big Girls Don't Cry," and the giddy "Walk Like a Man."

Jersey Boys
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Cast John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda
Release Date 20 June 2014
Steve's Grade: B+

While The Four Seasons endure extreme success, the band proves that Jersey blood still stays in the veins of those born there. The band stays tight with the mob during its rise and success, often engaging in shady deals with loanshark Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken), who informs the group that DeVito, the band's finances manager, has dug himself into a $160,000 hole that needs to be paid back. This, along with personal issues from Frankie (who adopts the stage name of "Frankie Valli") involving marital complications and sudden rebellion from his daughter.

For starters, whether we're watching The Four Lovers getting doors slammed in their faces when they are first trying to make it big, record producers saying "come back when you're black," or listening to the wonderful musics the band manages to create, Jersey Boys is consistently alive and effervescent. If nothing else, one should come for the amazing display of classic, fifties pop and rock. From the first time the classic "Sherry" is, the screen becomes illuminated with dazzling color and spirit as it is sung by amazingly talented young men.

The standout performance of the hour definitely has to be John Lloyd Young, who played Frankie Valli in the actual Jersey Boys musical; clearly Eastwood saw nobody more fit to play the talented musician and wisely so. Young has clearly played the role of Valli for so long on stage that the quips, the character's emotions, and his nuances simply come to him and he gives us a rousing performance, whether he's in a rough decision or singing his heart art at a nightclub clouded by cigarette-smoke. Even the other actors - Piazza, Lomenda, and Bergen - make themselves known in some way, so as not to treat the remainder of The Four Seasons members as background singers to Valli.

The other detail that must not go unnoticed is the film's incredible cinematography, costumes, and set design, all of which need to be under consideration for next year's Academy Awards. The costume work by Deborah Hopper replicates the fifties culture to a tee, giving off the through-and-through conservatism and regressiveness of the era, and is complimenting by the extremely decadent production and set design by James J. Murakami and Ronald R. Reiss, respectively. Finally, there's Tom Stern's gritty cinematography, which fittingly compliments the environment these characters are living and growing up in, and doesn't become distracting when blended with the presence of wonderful music, but rather germane and affecting.

One could criticize Jersey Boys for being too safe and complicit with a formula (however, I'd question why you were expecting Jersey Boys to be such a subversive piece of film), but I find one other issue a bit more pressing than that - the lack of time and its significance on the characters in the film. The film chronicles years and years of The Four Seasons and their success, yet, unless we pay close attention to the hairdos, wrinkles, and mannerisms of the four main characters, the year or evidence of how much time has passed from scene-to-scene is a mystery. Never are we really given specific years accept for the opening scene or if we're lucky to snag a glimpse of the year on a theatrical poster or a movie being played at the same time. This makes it shocking to suddenly realize that Valli has a family of three daughters, one of whom is apparently rebellious, the other two apparently invisible. It also would've been nice to see more exposition devoted to the development of Valli and his family, which would've only worked in the film's long-term favor since the final act devotes much of its time to him.

Even with those minor setbacks, however, Jersey Boys is a real treat on the big screen. Not only does it winningly explore one of the most charismatic quartets in music history, but it provides entertainment to a target demographic that doesn't find itself served with much in the way of quality entertainment. The baby-boomers and those who fondly recall watching The Four Seasons on American Bandstand with Dick Clark are almost guaranteed to appreciate this, if they hadn't had the luxury of seeing the play (my father took my mother on their anniversary to see it in Las Vegas several years ago and sat with me in the audience while watching the film). Powered by the slickest of direction by Eastwood and almost sublime aesthetics, the film is a sight for sore eyes and a sound for sore ears.

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