Thursday, June 19, 2014

“Jersey Boys”– Movie Review



This week, the Summer Semester of my movie class began with a screening of “Jersey Boys”, the musical drama directed by Clint Eastwood.


When four young men from northern New Jersey form a singing group, they attempt to make a career in show business – but will competition and internal conflicts impede their success?


In the early 1950’s, life choices were limited if you grew up in a blue collar town of northern New Jersey: if you wanted out of the area altogether, you either entered a life of crime, signed up for the armed forces or went into show business. For Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) and his friends, going into show business was their only viable option. These young men formed a band and Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), one of its leaders, invited Frankie to be their lead singer; with his unusual falsetto voice, this musical group would be sure to stand out. Together, they played at every opportunity they could get, finally recording a demo tape they submitted to music industry professionals in the hope of being signed to a recording contract.

Soon, they would find that with so many aspiring performers attempting to knock on the door of fame, being discovered as a new musical talent was more of a challenge than they had anticipated. Their luck takes a turn for the better when they run into Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle), a music producer who hires them to sing back-up on other people’s records. Eventually, they tire of this and express a desire to record their own tunes, written by fellow band member Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen); Crewe tells them that if they can raise the money to pay for the studio time, he will record them. Unfortunately, Tommy’s only way of raising the money is through his connections with organized crime, which he has due to his association with gangster Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken).

Between Bob’s songwriting talent and Frankie’s unusual singing style, their act, now known as The Four Seasons, gradually starts piling up one hit single after another and they discover that they have somehow beaten the odds and managed to achieve the level of success they dreamed. They find, however, that this success only breeds new problems instead of making them deliriously happy. Internecine squabbles begin to tear things apart. When Tommy’s fiscal irresponsibility puts their group nearly a million dollars in debt with the mob, Frankie assumes the onus of paying back the money by working it off over time. But in order to do so, will he be able to balance both his personal and professional life?


To be up front about this: Despite being a New Yorker, I’ve never seen the Broadway musical version of “Jersey Boys”, so if you’re hoping for a comparison between the play and the movie, you’ll have to look elsewhere. That said, much of the story in the movie adaptation of “Jersey Boys” is narrated by its characters; rather than a voiceover narration, this is done by having each band member taking a turn at directly addressing the audience on camera. While this technique of talking to the audience while on stage may have worked effectively in the Broadway play on which this movie is based, I found this to be a bit off-putting and disconcerting when utilized in the film version.

Although there are movies that have done this in the past – the technique is certainly not new – it has been done sparingly. “Ferris Bueller”, “Goodfellas” and “Annie Hall” are films that come immediately to mind in this regard; while the style was implemented here, it was done with a specific intent and in order to set a tone in the story. In “Jersey Boys”, the narrator changes, so you are not being told the story from a single perspective (some have inappropriately and unfairly compared it to “Rashomon”); another way in which it becomes confusing is one particular scene where Frankie is seen in a room talking and the audience does not see anyone else in the shot. Is he talking to himself? Is he addressing the audience? In fact, it turns out he is having a conversation with another character in a different room.  One positive note was the performance by Piazza; although the character of Valli is the star, it is Piazza’s portrayal of DeVito that really stands out – he really nails the regional accent accurately (not surprising since I’ve heard he’s from New York City originally). 

Another problem I had with “Jersey Boys” is with respect to its ending. The movie tracks 40 years in the life of these men – from the early 1950’s to the early 1990’s; after that, when the film is effectively over for all intents and purposes, there is what you might refer to as an “encore” – the motion picture seems to flashback to The Four Seasons’ heyday in the 1960’s where the group is performing a medley of their hits on a street corner, presumably in their old neighborhood in New Jersey (a cheesy looking and unconvincing back-lot set at Warner Brothers). They are soon joined by all of the other characters who had appeared in the picture. I found this to be not only gratuitous but cringe-worthy as well. Apparently, Eastwood was afraid that there might be some backlash over the fact that he didn’t include enough of the performance of The Four Seasons’ songs in his picture as I’m given to understand there are in the play.

Jersey Boys (2014) on IMDb

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