JERSEY BOYS

jersey-boys-poster-600x889Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons hold a special place in my musical history. I remember they were one of the first pop groups I ever heard. My Aunt was a fan and she would listen to their records and I would listen along. So I was eager to see what Clint Eastwood would do with JERSEY BOYS, the hit Broadway musical that he adapted for the big screen. I’m not exactly disappointed. I guess I’m more befuddled. Alison Wilmore of BuzzFeed kind of cleared it up for me. JERSEY BOYS is not really a musical as much it is a drama about music. As Wilmore says, “it’s a musical that doesn’t care about music”. Think of it as more RAY than CHICAGO or LES MISERABLES. JERSEY BOYS is the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. How four kids who were destined for jail or the Jersey mob got out and became one of the biggest selling groups of the early 1960’s. Three of the Four Seasons starred in the National touring company of the Broadway musical. So, they were experienced in their roles. It shows. John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda are very natural and comfortable and seem to know what they are doing. The one “outlier” is Vincent Piazza. He is also the one with the most acting chops. Piazza is fantastic in Boardwalk Empire as Charlie “Lucky” Luciano. He plays a similar character here in Tommy DeVito. DeVito is a self-involved, self-important jerk. Sure he organized the band and managed it in its early stages, but he also was a crook, a thief and was instrumental in the end of the original Four Seasons. Piazza shines in the role. The music is also great. Eastwood chose to have the music performed live to film. It totally works. Each performance feels genuine and raw. That’s the good. There are also problems. Several times in the movie, characters seemingly appear out of nowhere (one character’s daughter suddenly appears only to be killed off moments later with little explanation). Most of the time, Eastwood uses the music to fill gaps, make transitions and cover plot exposition. Music is all anyone cares about when you go to see a movie about the Four Seasons. They are interesting but not as compelling as someone like Ray Charles. So, the choice to ditch the musical aspects of the Broadway show in favor of a more dramatic approach is kind of baffling. The one time it really feels like a musical is the final number that begins the closing credits. That was an example of what this could have been had Eastwood gone that way, as he should have. That said, I really enjoyed the movie. I did wind up caring about these guys and sat in rapt attention for the movie’s two plus hours. So should you see JERSEY BOYS? Absolutely! It’s entertaining and well done. You just have to go in with the right expectations. — Alan Yudman

Not to go all Jebidiah Atkinson on Clint, but going in I didn’t realize the movie would last through all four seasons. This overlong, by-the-numbers biopic has a shining central performance from the magnetic John Lloyd Young. But at 2 1/4 hours, it struggles to find conflict in what was basically an untrammeled success story. Once the group finds its sound — and that’s pretty early on — the boys are on their way to tremendous success. And that’s pretty much it, with two exceptions that get so pumped up for dramatic purpose, they squeeze most of the joy from both the music and the musicians. Group founder Tommy DeVito spends himself (and the others’ money) into a Mob-constricting hole, leading to his ouster amid much Sturm und Drang about loyalty and betrayal. Lead singer Frankie is on the road too much, leading to family tragedy amid even Sturmier und Drangier tears and recrimination. The latter story line involves a daughter who pretty much appears out of nowhere, disappears for a while, returns off screen as an apparent up-and-coming recording talent, and then goes away for good. The acting is solid, but I gotta say that to me, Vincent Piazza (who plays Tommy) looked so much like Robert Pattinson, it intruded on my ability to enjoy the character. (To a lesser degree, Michael Lomenda, who plays Nick Massi, reminded me of a young Michael McKean.) Christopher Walken is simply wonderful. It’s not a big part, but is there another actor in movies who could put the spin he does on a simple line like “Stay out of my bathroom”? Only at the very end, in a reunion scene that could have been much more fully developed (with much of what comes earlier trimmed) does the movie come alive, thanks in part to excellent aging makeup. But Eastwood isn’t content to stop there: he has to throw in a dance number just before the credits that comes off like the old Drew Carey sitcom opener (“Cleveland Rocks”) with a final shot of the entire cast holding their pose like a game of statues or the end of a “Police Squad” episode. — Jeff Schultz

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