Sunday, June 22, 2014

Jersey Boys: Movie Review

Get out of Jersey, get ready for some feel-good fun.

“Jersey Boys” is the rise and fall of The Four Seasons based on the true story and the stage musical. Director Clint Eastwood incorporated the feel of the stage musical in a subtle manner and it gave the film some great framing. They’re New Jersey boys torn between crime and anything other than crime in the early days. Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) knew Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) could sing and putting him in the center, they might find their way out of jail.   2014

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

Screenplay by: Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice

Starring: John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda

DeVito had a habit of finding himself in trouble, while Valli had a habit of finding himself in love, but that just made his love songs ring more true to the audience. The film had a good structure, spending around equal parts with the boys meeting and trying to turn singing into a career, the boys trying to find their sound with a new member, the boys becoming The Four Seasons and reaching the height of success, that success then driving the boys apart, and life after success for remaining famous members (Frankie Valli).

The film opens with Frankie Valli and Tommy DeVito (and band member Nick Massi, but he had a much smaller role) in Belleville, New Jersey in 1951. Valli was a nice kid with a great voice and didn’t belong in the projects. And for the sake of the film, I think they made a good choice by making Tommy DeVito the voice for the band to introduce us to the story. DeVito was charismatic, charming, magnetic, had a way with words, but did not have a way with money. And in his own Jersey way, had asides to the audience to tell us what was really going on. Vincent Piazza plays DeVito and he was charismatic, charming, magnetic and had a way with words. His line delivery was fantastic and owned the screen whenever he was on camera. He (and later member Gaudio) gave a great rhythm to the solid dialogue.

John Lloyd Young played Frankie Valli and while he might not have the screen presence that you might hope for, he does have the voice. And the Jersey Boys versions of The Four Seasons songs sound remarkably similar to the original The Four Seasons.

The film picked up its interest level when introducing Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), the fourth member of the band, the one who turned them from a trio to a quartet, from The Four Lovers to the Four Seasons. He was a song writer responsible for most of their hits, helped them find their sound, and gave them their first taste of success with “Sherry.”

Fittingly, the music picks up once The Four Seasons have become The Four Seasons and their hit songs gave them success after success. It turns music history into fun, and although you might not be dancing in the aisles, you will be singing along.

It’s now time for the success to fail and the band to fall apart. And the film handled this well in a number of aspects. For one, it’s been around 15 years, and we’ve seen a gradual change in appearance and personality of the band members. A subtle and fluidly realistic aspect of aging that offers some reflection during the down times. The band’s downfall is not some overly dramatic, let’s turn them all into gangsters nonsense, but mostly follows history (other than DeVito’s departure) and focuses on Frankie Valli. Valli, by all accounts, was a nice, down-to-Earth, stand-up guy, who worked hard for his success, deserved his success and then continued to find success. It’s a nice story.

The focus on their private lives was minimal (just a wife and daughter for Valli, to show how his life has affected him and his music), the focus on the mob was minimal (although they did stretch DeVito’s dealings with them), and instead just focused on the band and their music. For some critics, the lack of drama made it a bad movie, for the rest of us, it makes it a fun, historically accurate, feel-good story of four good-old American boys finding success. For any fan of the Four Seasons, it’s a must-see. For fans of “Goodfellas” and Eastwood classics of old, this is not one of those movies.
Best of 2014