Review: Jersey Boys
Let’s first get something out of the way. It’s just too good to be true that a running theme in Jersey Boys depicts a creative relationship between Four Seasons group members Bob Gaudio and lead singer Frankie Valli (both executive producers of the film) while leaving out a key element in the group’s success. Producer Bob Crewe’s actual role as co-writer (along with Gaudio) of the group’s many hits goes ignored in 84-year-old Clint Eastwood’s film version of the musical stage hit. It gets so weird that their one pop smash co-written by Crewe without Gaudio (“Let’s Hang On”) is nowhere to be found in the film while every other big hit is honored. One would have no idea from Jersey Boys that Crewe is anything more than a producer and cheerleader for the group that went on to sell more than 100 million records. Go figure. And while poetic license in a film of this sort is nothing new, a timeline involving a key event surrounding Valli’s daughter is fudged by a full thirteen years and, to boot, Valli sings “My Eyes Adored You” to her a decade before it was written. (It also seems an oddly inappropriate choice for a father-to-daughter song.)
Yet Jersey Boys contains enough impact onscreen that getting upset by factual fibs can seem like mere quibbling. Beginning with Tony-winner John Lloyd Young as a convincing Frankie Castelluccio turned Frankie Valli, Jersey Boys also benefits cinematically from Eastwood’s old school style. Toning down what apparently was a hyped musical barrage in the stage presentation (this reviewer has not seen the play), Eastwood turns up the dramatic undertones. The boys, except for Gaudio (Erich Bergen), came from a working class background replete with troubles with the law and family crises. Supporting actors like Kathrine Narducci as Frankie’s protective mom and Joseph Russo as Joey Pesci (yes, THAT Joey Pesci) add flavor to the proceedings.
Saliently presented and superbly aided by a fine attention for period detail, Eastwood’s capturing of the 1950s and early 1960s is superb. His casting of Valli and bad-boy bandleader Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) pays off; both are highly believable characters. Although beset by occasional cliches and plot facilitators, the film works well enough in between its musical numbers to enhance the celebration. Shortcuts sure are present though. When knocking on doors in The Brill Building, the boys run into Crewe (Mike Doyle) in the hallway: we’re given no explanation on how they know each other. Crewe will eventually listen to a few bars of “Sherry” over the phone and flip out over how great it sounds. No mention is made of the Four Seasons as the first white act to record on the black label, VeeJay and its implications on breaking racial barriers in radio programming. Yet Eastwood finds the time to add a pretentious scene of a member of the band watching Eastwood on TV in an old Rawhide episode.
Jersey Boys keys in on the relationship of straight-arrow Valli with the unhinged spendthrift DeVito. Early in the film DeVito exclaims there are three ways to get out of the neighborhood–going into the army, getting “mobbed-up,” and going for fame. He and his friends had two out of three covered: in between singing in the group The Four Lovers, the boys screw up petty crime heists. DeVito goes to a loanshark to rustle up funds for a demo.
A few years later The Four Season have a string of Number One and Top Ten hits. DeVito becomes increasingly protective of his role as the band’s business leader as he becomes more and more jealous of the closeness between Valli and Gaudio, who instantly brings a previously nonexistent professionalism to the group. (Not long before meeting the group in 1958, Gaudio had already achieved a notoriety when at the age of 15 he composed the novelty hit “Who Wears Short Shorts?” while guitarist of The Royal Teens.)
In a tense scene at the mansion of mob boss Angelo “Gyp” Decarlo (Christopher Walken), the previously complacent Valli stiffens his spine and agrees to take on a big debt that DeVito secretly brought on the group’s shoulders. Ever loyal, Valli, despite family problems, shows a huge reservoir of drive. When the group disintegrates around him he seems to grow stronger. The fun and games may be in the past, but the undying memory of four guys harmonizing under a street lamp endures.
Young not only deftly handles the unique falsetto of Valli, he gives a performance that nicely delves into the dramatic nuances of a reserved and troubled hero. Looming in the film’s epilogue is the spirit of the American underdog defiantly reveling in the simple, bouncy melodies of a baby boomer-era nostalgia gone exultant.