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Jersey Boys (10/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 2 hours.

OK for children.

Rarely has a musical play disappointed me as much as Tony award-winning Jersey Boys (which is one of the longest running plays in Broadway history). The version I saw was so bad I was fighting sleep all the way through and even the music was mediocre.  So this movie was a pleasant surprise because it’s the best film I’ve seen all year, and maybe it will bring about the rebirth of the movie musical.

Director Clint Eastwood has done himself proud with a film that combines terrific musical performances along with a compelling story of Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony for playing the role on stage) and The Four Seasons. Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda reprised their touring company roles as Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi, respectively.

Highlighted by a bravura performance by Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito, the troubled guy who put the group together, one of the big things Eastwood does right is to stay faithful to the music. One of the worst musicals ever made was Walk the Line (2008) which tried to tell the story of Johnny Cash without one song being sung straight through. Of course the film was burdened by an egomaniacal actor who insisted on singing the songs himself, never mind that he can’t sing and that Johnny Cash’s voice was iconic. Eastwood, to the contrary, showcases each song from beginning to end so the film is akin to a Four Seasons concert along with the interesting story of how they got there and what happened to them once they arrived. The difference is that Eastwood is a musician who loves music and pays it the deference it is due while James Mangold, who directed ‘Line, apparently has no history or background with music and obviously thought it had nothing to do with the story of Johnny Cash.

All of the music was recorded live (no lip-syncing) so what you hear is the music of the Four Seasons, sung by the cast. There didn’t seem to be any diminution of the quality of the performances, however.

The music is so good in this film that I stayed until the end credits stopped rolling just to hear all the music of The Four Seasons that played right up until the end.

As good as the music, are the story and the acting. As with most groups, they had their internal problems and Eastwood doesn’t blanch at telling the truth.

One of the many highlights of the film is the appearance of Christopher Walken as Gyp DeCarlo, a mob boss who took a liking to Frankie. In typical Hollywood fashion when it comes to the mob, though, Walken portrays DeCarlo as a kindly, sensitive, caring man. In truth, he was a caporegine in the Genovese family, and controlled loansharking and murder for hire. Convicted in 1970 of conspiracy to commit murder he was sentenced to 12 years but pardoned by Richard Nixon after 18 months, allegedly at the behest of Vice President Spiro Agnew who was a close friend of Frank Sinatra’s. So take the benign portrayal by Walken with a grain of salt.

Because Eastwood goes the extra step to show the guys in the Four Seasons (with the exception of song writer Bob Gaudio) as small time criminals, it’s puzzling why he was so soft with DeCarlo.

Another award-quality performance is given by Mike Doyle as songwriter/record producer Bob Crewe, who comes close to stealing the movie. Eastwood doesn’t hide Crewe’s gayness (Crewe’s Four Seasons hit “Can’t take my eyes off of you” was allegedly written as a male to male experience). More power to Clint for telling it like it was and is, although Crewe’s participation with Gaudio in writing the songs is effectively hidden for some reason. Clint shows him only as a producer who really got things done for the Four Seasons.

There are lots of clever little bits that light up the film to the audience’s delight, like a very short B&W clip of Clint as rouster Rowdy Yates in Rawhide (1959-65).

While most Broadway shows end with a finale and curtain call, Eastwood has the entire cast take part in a captivating dance at the end, even Walken.

June 20, 2014