By Shane M. Dallmann
I never did get to see JERSEY BOYS on the stage, but some sixteen years ago I got to take my wife to see Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons for real… and from the real-life KRML to PLAY MISTY FOR ME to BIRD, you know that our local celebrity director Clint Eastwood loves his music… so, even though this movie doesn’t SEEM to be the sort of thing I’d jump at, the truth of the matter is that from the moment I saw the TV trailer for the first time, I declared “Okay–THIS we’re seeing!”
And I’m a bit surprised at the mixed reviews… this is a perfect “date” movie and my wife and I enjoyed it from beginning to end.
Of course, this is the “true story” (at least as far as a Broadway show re-adapted for the screen can be counted on to be “true”) of the rise, fall and re-formation of you know who and the you know whats… as narrated in the main by various members of the band: as Tommy DeVito, Vincent Piazza actually takes top billing over John Lloyd Young as Frankie himself… also featured are Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi and Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio.
The story kicks off with the still-juvenile Frankie being warned that he ought to hang out with a better class of friends than such delinquents as Tommy, etc… yeah, they’re up to no good, but they DO have that band and Frankie’s going to get his chance to shine. Oh, and Tommy has connections to local mob boss Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken). Okay, the complaints have already started from some viewers/critics who feel that Eastwood is merely giving us “GOODFELLAS Lite.” Well, what do you want? GOODFELLAS full-strength? We can’t completely ignore this element of Valli’s life and background, and these early scenes include a terrific sight gag involving a safe robbery and the trunk of a car; as well as the gang “innocently” breaking into a church so as to make use of the fancy organ and acoustics… and the fact that we have Walken instead of, say, DeNiro should say it all for the tone as we build up to the discovery of Frankie’s voice and subsequent music.
And here, of course, is the true appeal of JERSEY BOYS… as the band known variously as the Varietones and the Four Lovers gradually establishes its identity and breaks through with their inimitable classic recordings (get ready for a terrific turn by Mike Doyle as Bob Crewe (ironically, he of “Music to Watch Girls By”). Again, I’ve heard that this movie somehow short-changes the viewer when it comes to the music (at least as opposed to the stage show)–well, I can’t speak from experience in that department, but JERSEY BOYS didn’t disappoint in the slightest… at least as a movie WITH and ABOUT plenty of classic music–as opposed to a “musical” as such, if that makes any sense?
Yes, we follow all of the standard “show-biz melodrama” cliches (which, of course, are always based on truth in the end)… we get marital strife, infidelity, distrust, jealousy and (of course) trouble with the mob; but Eastwood (who allows himself a clever cameo of sorts) never lets things get too harsh in the depiction (the saddest event in Frankie’s life is quite sad enough without the details being rubbed in your face, for instance). To some, this is disappointing–to me, it’s exactly the right approach for a movie that’s supposed to be about the celebration of the music. The language is already strong enough for an “R” rating, but after all we’ve seen in countless “dark side of show biz” stories that have gone on before, do we honestly need domestic violence, mob torture or drug-ravaged bodies in order for us to “get” it?
What we DO get is a cast with great chemistry and a superb knack for covering the classics… and with that in place, Eastwood even manages to pull off one of the best end-title sequences since that of BUCKAROO BANZAI itself (I’m not kidding and you’ll know what I mean when you see it)–it’s the perfect capper for a perfectly entertaining time at the movies.