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Jersey Boys (review)

Review by Clay N Ferno
Produced by Clint Eastwood, Graham King, 
Robert Lorenz
Screenplay by Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice
Based on Jersey Boys by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, 
Michael Lamenda, Vincent Piazza, Christopher Walken

John Lloyd Young stars as Frankie Valli in the Clint Eastwood directed movie Jersey Boys, based on the jukebox musical of the same name.

This retelling of the origin of the Four Seasons flips from being Goodfellas to Bye Bye Birdie, adds a bit of previously unknown dangerous element to the pop groups’ origin, and offers another outlet for Eastwood’s directorial oeuvre.

The talented cast are triple threats in the classical show-biz way, and the romantic notion of cutting a record and shopping it around to labels is illustrated in the musical as the quartet finally gets a name and a ‘sound’.

Told partially by having each of the members of the Four Seasons break the fourth wall and narrate the story, we start out with Vincent Piazza (Boardwalk Empire) as founding member Tommy DeVito. His criminal activities, black market dealings and revolving door at the state prison make for a very Henry Hill intro to the movie.

In the neighborhood, Tommy is playing in The Variety Trio and encourages his good pal Frankie (John Lloyd Young) to join him on stage to sing in his famous falsetto. He’s a hit with at least one lady in the front row. Tommy lets Frankie borrow his car to take her out for a spin after the set.

The trio becomes a foursome when Tommy meets up with Joe Pesci (the actor himself played by Joseph Russo) who introduces the men to Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen). Bob was responsible for his hit song “Short Shorts” by his group The Royal Teens.

The songwriter joins The Four Lovers as an equal partner before their infamous name change.
Carrying over some of his bad business practices, Tommy continues to borrow money from gangsters to get records cut and eventually this gets out of hand toward the end of the film.

Christopher Walken plays Gyp DeCarlo — a Jersey business man who has some influence on the street. Of course, Tommy is under his wing, but the band as a whole seeks his advice at points. Need anything more be said about Walken playing a gangster with Vito (Steve Schirripa) at his side?

Probably not! His staccato dialogue sucks you in as soon as you see him on screen, the audience in my theatre was freaking out. Too bad we don’t get to see him sing or dance himself — Walken is played in more of a comic relief cartoon of a gangster in the film.

The fourth member of the Four Seasons is bassist Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda). As Tommy’s frequent tour roommate, he is frequently the forgotten member of the pack, but eventually is the one who speaks out the most about Tommy’s incurred debt as that almost stops the group from continuing.

Bob Crewe — the group’s flamboyant producer and lyricist is played by Mike Doyle. Who is to say if this is based in reality or not, but Crewe appears to take on the Fifth Beatle role here. With three number one hits in a row, Crewe was instrumental in the success.

The movie spans the whole career of the band through to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1990.

Eastwood is one hell of a director, and this script under anyone else would have just been an extended Glee episode. The songs fit right into the story as actual performances (or recording sessions) and the set changes, and the elapsed time really flows well. To be able to span decades in the course of a movie is one of my favorite cinematic feats when done well.

From Boogie Nights to Goodfellas, the feel of each decade must feel right and all of the characters need to grow along with the timeline in the movie. Eastwood even sticks in a clip of himself in Rawhide on a black and white television in a party scene that anchors the scene to be ‘of the time’.

The cast recordings of the original songs are amazing, with John Lloyd Young hitting all of the right notes. Erich Bergen plays the detached and ‘not from the neighborhood’ guy that really balances out the personalities in the group. Vincent Piazza’s Tommy is the bully, the racketeer. Michael Lomenda holds down the bass parts, and is almost a caricature of how bass players are perceived in the music business (replaceable yet necessary, not leading men but the guy that lays the concrete).

Jersey Boys is a great movie, and certainly one of the few musical films that I will revisit.

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