Friday, June 20, 2014

Jersey Boys [2014]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (2 1/2 Stars) (2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McCarthy) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (O. Henderson) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Jersey Boys [2014] (directed by Clint Eastwood, screenplay by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elise based on their previous stage musical / book) is a film that will probably disappoint stage-musical goers, whose opinions in this matter, to be honest, I don't care tremendously about here, as stage musical productions are generally ridiculously expensive (and hence out of reach of those who are not either very rich, or very interested).  More interstingly to me, however, is the possibility that the film will also disappoint many New Jerseyans as the single most devastating charge that I read about the film comes from the CNS/USCCB reviewer J. McCarthy who noted that almost none of the movie was filmed in New Jersey but rather at the Warner Brothers Studio Lot in Los Angeles.

It seems clear to me that director Clint Eastwood intended to make this film _honestly_ (Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of the AVClub noted that at the beginning of the story _three of the four of the members_ of the future Four Seasons made more money doing petty jobs for the local mob than with their singing.  And later, even after they achieved their success -- and even had the local mobsters _rooting for them_ -- they were never really able to break out of that past).  So it would seem to me that the better move would have been for Eastwood to have stepped back, if on account of his age his health was not up to filming the movie in New Jersey, take a more back-seat role as co-producer or co-executive producer, and find a "Jersey Boy" ('s Olie Henderson suggested Jersey born Brian De Palma) to make the film.

That said, the film could actually have cross-cultural appeal and even be inspiring to young people growing-up in poorer/working class, often similarly mobbed-up, neighborhoods across the world -- from Moscow/Omsk/Kiev, to Bogota/Rio de Janeiro, to Bangkok/Manila.  

So what's the film about?  It's about the story of the above mentioned Four Seasons pop-group that attained tremendous popularity in the United States in the years immediately preceding the arrival of The Beatles and the rest of the British Invasion of the mid-1960s.  Three of the four members of the Four Seasons -- Frankie Valli [IMDb] (played in the film by John Lloyd Young), Tommy deVito [IMDb] (played by Vincent Piazza) and Nick Massi [IMDb] (played in the film by Michael Lomenda) -- grew-up in Belleville, New Jersey just outside of Newark, NJ.  Playing in a band calling themselves The Four Lovers, the fourth band member being Tommy's brother Nick DeVito (played by Johnny Cannizarro), they spent a number of years spinning their wheels, with them finding themselves often in trouble with the law (and the DeVito brothers, one or the other, in jail) for doing various small jobs often for the local mob, headed by (in the film) a Gyp DeCarlo (played by Christopher Walken), possibly the most sympathetic "family guy" mobster ever portrayed in American film (but "hey, in Jersey, if one stuck together with one's friends, the ones who 'looked after the neighborhood' EVERYONE was 'family'." That was basically The Code...)

Frankie, Tommy and Nick's break came, when one of them working in a bowling alley, ran into a young Joe Pesci (played in the film by Joseph Russo), yes THE FUTURE ACTOR Joe Pesci [IMDb] working (in the back, setting up the pins) in the same said bowling alley who also "worked" as a part-time talent scout.  It was _this_ "Joey" who put the Three/Four Lovers together with the fourth member of the future Four Seasons, keyboardist and songwriter Bob Gaudio [IMDb] (played in the film by Erich Bergen). 

Hearing Frankie Valli's striking falsetto voice for the first-time, Bob became convinced that this was the guy he needed to write songs for.  Bob also came with some connections in New York, notably a quite-openly-gay record producer named Bob Crewe (played by Mike Doyle).  After some lingering struggles with the group's name (the "Four Lovers" weren't going _anywhere_), they finally and quite amusingly changed it to The Four Seasons after the bowling alley where "it all kinda came together" (However, film's dialogue notes that the name ALSO actually evokes Vivaldi's Four Seasons, which makes some sense as well, as all four, even if "from Jersey," were also of ITALIAN descent and arguably even Frankie "Valli's" name itself evoked Vivaldi...).  Then they got their big hit Sherry followed by Big Girls Don't Cry, Walk Like a Man, etc.

However, even as their fame skyrocketed as they played gigs like American Bandstand and even the Ed Sullivan Show, they couldn't escape and then largely choose not to abandon their past.  Tommy gets into trouble with debts to loan sharks, Frankie out of loyalty to his friend decides to help him.  At this point, Nick Massi, "breaking the 4th wall of the theater" explains to the audience (To US the viewers) "If you don't understand why Frankie would do this, well, YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND JERSEY."

The rest of the story is something of a spiral downward.  Not only is Tommy in trouble, but Frankie finds himself with serious family issues at home (largely of his own doing -- he's never at home and he takes on the added burden of a mistress...).  The other two, Nick and Bob, for different reasons find themselves tired of the band.

But before it all collapses, Bob and Frankie do collaborate on one last, now almost haunting hit: Can't Take My Eyes off of You.

It's really quite a good, bittersweet, and even (above mentioned) haunting story about friends, family, neighborhood and precariousness of "fame."

Again, perhaps it would have been better if the movie had been filmed in New Jersey, but overall, it honestly remains a pretty good job!

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