‘I’ ON CULTURE
I really liked Jersey Boys. Of course, I should point out that I am part of the generation that really liked Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and, based on a quick review of what critics are writing, that is an important dividing line between really liking the film and not. Younger reviewers seem to want a lot of music video-type performances (think something like the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night). But the guys in this film are portrayed as they were: gritty, working-class guys who used their talent to get out of the slums of New Jersey. The music is great, and you can dance to it. A few people in the audience actually did while we watched.
The story focuses on young Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young), working as a barber, who has a great voice. One of the older guys from the neighborhood, Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), a small-time crook and singer who works for gangster Gyp DiCarlo (Christopher Walken) initiates him into the world of both singing and crime. Frankie is a total failure as a criminal, but he changes his name to Frankie Valli (the i at the end of the name coming from his soon-to-be wife Mary Delgado, played by Renée Marino), who points out that having a vowel at the end of the name shows he’s Italian. He, Tommy, and friend Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) are going nowhere when neighborhood friend Joe Pesci (yes, the future actor) introduces them to Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), who is a songwriter. They go through all the usual struggles until Gaudio writes the song Sherry.
At that point, the whole pace of the movie changes. As in real life, the world of the newly named Four Seasons went out of control. They had the hits (several lovingly recreated by director Clint Eastwood), the wild times, the years on the road. And, of course, the fights. DeVito spends their money as he pleases, gets in major debt to the mob, and the group falls apart. DeVito is ordered to Las Vegas, forcing him out of the group. Massi decides he just wants to leave and go home. Valli agrees to pay back the full debt brought on by DeVito, forcing him to spend years working almost every night on the road, while neglecting his own daughters, leading to tragedy.
This is not a lighthearted romp. There are strong dramatic moments; tension broken mainly by songs. As in the Broadway musical the movie is based on, things move a lot better as soon as the Four Seasons’ hits start going. But, be warned, except for a rousing finale, the songs are basically recreations of the Four Seasons in front of audiences. No fancy music video moments.
Young, who won a Tony Award for his original portrayal of Frankie on Broadway, repeats the role. Good makeup enables him to age from a teen to a senior without being obtrusive. And he is really good. The film has far more dramatic scenes than the show, and he carries off the part very well. The other members of the group are also great. Each becomes very much an individual, with Lomenda doing very well with the smallest of the parts, or, as he puts it, “the Ringo Starr.” Walken was great as DiCarlo, taking a part that could have been a simple stereotype and making it in a real gem. Mike Doyle as Bob Crewe, the record producer and lyricist, added a lot of charm and humor to the cast. And Marino as Frankie’s wife was a fabulous “Jersey girl” — sexy and tough.
The audience in the packed theater I went to was older than the normal crowd. Clearly, a lot of us are seeing the movie as a way of reliving our past. And it was a fun past. The film ends on a high note. First, after the major tragedy of Valli’s life, he and Gaudio fight to get one really big song through; one that just about everyone else hates. The song, Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You, becomes an enormous hit, which leads into the happy ending where they all reunite at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And don’t rush out at the end: There is a great (actually the only) music video, of the whole cast singing and dancing to Oh What A Night. Bet you didn’t know Walken could really dance!
So, if you like the music, make certain you don’t miss this movie. And if you don’t know the music all that well and do like old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll, you could do far worse. I liked this one a lot.