Jersey Boys

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 1951, in Belleville, New Jersey, Tommy DeVito, narrating the story, introduces the audience to himself, Tommy’s brother Nicky, and their friend Nick Massi, who perform together as The Variety Trio, and to a barber’s son, 16-year-old Frankie Castelluccio, already well known in the neighborhood for his singing voice. Frankie has the admiration of Genovese Family mobster Angelo “Gyp” DeCarlo, who takes a personal interest in him.

One night, the group attempts a robbery of a safe, for which the police later arrest them. In court, Frankie is let off with a warning but Tommy is sentenced to six months in prison. After his release, Tommy reunites the group and adds Frankie as lead singer. Frankie changes his professional name to Frankie Vally, and then Frankie Valli. At a performance, Frankie is entranced by a woman named Mary Delgado. He takes her to dinner, and they are soon married.

The group, now called “The Four Lovers,” is in need of a songwriter after Nicky leaves. Tommy’s friend Joe Pesci tells him about a talented singer-songwriter, Bob Gaudio, and invites him to hear the group perform. Gaudio, now narrating, is impressed with Valli’s vocals and agrees to join.

The band, having recorded several demos, attempts to attract interest, with little success. One day in New York City, producer Bob Crewe signs them to a contract. However, they quickly realize that it only allows them to perform back-up vocals for other acts (as The Romans and The Topix). Crewe says that the group does not have a distinctive image or sound yet. Inspired by a bowling alley sign, the guys rename themselves “The Four Seasons,” and sing a new song Gaudio has written, “Sherry”, to Crewe, who agrees to record it.

“Sherry” quickly becomes a major hit, followed by two more, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man”. However, before an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, Valli is approached by Jewish mobster Norman Waxman, a loan shark for one of the other Five Families, who claims that Tommy owes him $150,000. Frankie goes to DeCarlo, who gets Waxman to allow the group to pay the debt, which turns out to be considerably larger. Tommy must go to work for the mob’s associates in Las Vegas until it is paid. Nick, irritated by Tommy’s irresponsibility, not being involved in the group’s decisions, and never being able to see his family, also leaves the group.

Forced to tour constantly to pay the debt, the band hires a set of studio musicians and becomes Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, with Gaudio now acting only as songwriter and producer. Valli learns from his now ex-wife Mary that his daughter, Francine, now a drug addict, has run away from home. Valli tracks her down and regrets not acting as a better father for her when she was growing up. He also arranges for Gaudio to give her singing lessons and for Crewe to cut a demo for her.

A few years later, the group has finally paid off Tommy’s debt. Sadly, this coincides with the news of Francine’s death by drug overdose. Frankie and Mary both grieve for their daughter. Gaudio composes a new number for Valli to sing, his first as a solo artist. Frankie is at first hesitant, as he is still in mourning, but eventually agrees. The piece, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”, becomes a commercial success.

In 1990, the original Four Seasons are to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The quartet performs “Rag Doll” onstage, their first performance together in over 20 years. The music fades as the four men take turns addressing the audience. Tommy, in an ironic twist, now works for Joe Pesci, who has gone on to become an Oscar-winning actor. Nick claims to have no regrets about leaving the group, enjoying the time he spends with his family. Bob has retired to Nashville, Tennessee. Lastly, Frankie finally takes over the narration, stating that the best time he had during his time with the Four Seasons was before their success, “when everything was still ahead of us and it was just four guys singing under a street lamp.”

REVIEW:

Clint Eastwood makes his first foray into the world of musicals with Jersey Boys, the Tony Award winning play detailing the life of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. With such great music, a great director, and a story that seems to be made for the big screen, this film can’t fail, right?

What is this about?

Adapted from the hit Broadway musical, this nostalgic look at the Four Seasons and their bumpy offstage lives stretches across four decades. Each of the musical act’s four original members presents a different set of memories from their shared past.

What did I like?

And we’re Walken. Christopher Walken has become that guy that you stick in your movie and he will automatically make it better. He’s in like 3 or 4 scenes as a mob boss, and just by the nature of who he is, those are some of the best scenes of the film. Would I have liked to have seen more of him, yes, but then this would have turned into a mob movie, I feel. A little bit goes a long way.

Narration. I’ve notices lately that narration needs to be done exactly right and by the right person for it work for me. Here we have a story about 4 guys. Why not give them each a chance to tell part of the story? That’s exactly what happens and you know what? I approve! Not only do we get the chance to hear from each of them on what was going on, but the tone of the film at the time fits with the particular member. For instance Nick Massi was a bit on the serious, brooding side and his section of the film is the “crash and burn” of the group.

Exit music. This is a film that was taken from a Broadway musical, so who wouldn’t expect there to be a grand musical finale? While there wasn’t as much music in here as I would like, when the songs did take center stage, they were on point, specifically the closing number. For the first time in this over 2hr film, it actually looked like the cast was having fun and we in the audience felt it. The ending medley of Four Seasons hits makes you want to get up and dance and I’m sure at some point more than a few people actually did!

What didn’t I like?

A little night music. So, this is a musical about a singing group. Last one of these we got was Mamma Mia!or was it Across the Universe?, but both of those went in a totally different directions. How is it that with all the opportunities to just belt out song after song, hit after hit, we literally have to wait an hour to get any real music in this. If Clint Eastwood wanted to take the music out of this, then why pick a musical about a singing group? Or why do this as a musical? As it stands, this is on the same level as Walk the Line, Ray, and all the other biopics about musicians. The music is there, but only because it has to be.

Melodrama. There is lots of drama to be had in the lives of these four to be sure, but the part that really got me was the death of Frankie Valli’s daughter. I believe that in any other film, this situation would have been a gut-punch, but because we get little to no time to connect with Valli’s family, this whole sequence of events was nothing more than filler, an attempt to setup the meaning of the song “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”, and give the film an emotional edge, which I don’t believe it did as successfully as Eastwood would have liked.

Makeup. It really bothered me how no one really aged in this film until all of a sudden at the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame ceremony they show up looking much older than when we last saw them. I can get over that, though. What I can’t let slide is how bad the makeup jobs were. Earlier this week, I watched an episode of That’s So Raven in which the three main character were about 60 years in the future. The makeup was bad, but that’s a low-budget kid’s sitcom from 10 yrs ago. The makeup that they put on these guys was on the same level, if not worse and the guy that was playing Frankie got it the worst. He looked like he just in the process of turning into a zombie. What were they thinking?!?

As I was telling somebody before I started watching. My expectation for Jersey Boys, and most musicals for that matter, is very high because I’m such a fan of those great productions from the Golden Age of Hollywood with the likes of Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Doris Day, etc. Unfortunately, this doesn’t come close. The acting is horrible, but I commend Eastwood for going with the original Broadway guys. They just don’t translate to the film that well. John Lloyd Young, who plays Frankie Valli, isn’t horrible and he does have some singing chops, but he needs a little bit more time to develop before we see him in anymore big screen projects. The songs are great, I just wish we had more time to enjoy them. Again, this is a musical with very little music!!! Do I recommend this? Not really, if you want to see this production but can’t make it to Broadway look it up on YouTube. I’m sure some high school, university, or community theater has done it, probably better than what this turned out to be. Don’t waste to 135 minutes!

3 out of 5 stars

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