Sunday, June 22, 2014

Jersey Boys - A Sentimental Peek Into the Past

Jersey Boys - Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind
You're just too good to be true. 
Can't take my eyes off of you. 
You'd be like heaven to touch.
I wanna hold you so much.
At long last love has arrived.
And I thank God I'm alive.
You're just too good to be true. 
Can't take my eyes off of you.

Pardon the way that I stare. 
There's nothing else to compare. 
The sight of you leaves me weak. 
There are no words left to speak. 
But if you feel like I feel. 
Please let me know that it's real.
You're just too good to be true. 
Can't take my eyes off of you.
was coming into my teenage years in the 1970's listening to AM radio. Besides the usual Middle of the Road (MOR) musical fare, was the doo-wop pop-rock sound of the Four Seasons.  The last time I saw Frankie Valli was in '78 when he did the theme song for the Broadway to film adaptation of the musical, "Grease."  In “Jersey Boys,” Clint Eastwood ("Play Misty for Me," "Gran Torino") in his 36th offering as a director brings back musical memories of a nostalgic time of an idealized era that is long gone. In “Jersey Boys,” we glimpse into the beginnings, the fame, and the troubles that made up the lives of the four musicians who formed “The Four Seasons.”  Eastwood was adamant in having relative unknown actors fill the main roles.  From the Broadway Musical John Lloyd Young stars as the iconic Frankie Valli, voice and all.  Vincent Piazza ("Boardwalk Empire," "Stephanie Daley"), stars as Tommy DeVito, the founder of the band “The Four Lovers,” which would evolve into “The Four Seasons.”  Michael Lomenda portrays bass vocalist and bass player Nick Massi. Erich Bergen (“How Sweet It Is”) plays the singer, keyboardist, and songwriter Bob Gaudio.  Christopher Walken rounds out the main cast members as caporegime, Angelo "Gyp" DeCarlo of the New York Genovese familia.  “Jersey Boys” has an R rating for the strong language and runs 2 hours and 14 minutes.

Many will show up to see “Jersey Boys” to reminisce to the pop-rock vocals of Frankie Valli and relive the music of their youth.  However, be forewarned, although the music is an integral to the narrative, however, the film and the Broadway Musical it’s based on focus primarily on the characters and their arc.  Throughout the film, we catch the songs as the band is practicing, or recording them and sometimes performing them, but not really the whole song.  In these cases the music is incidental to the narrative and isn’t the driving force behind the story.

Jersey Boys - The Four Seasons | A Constantly Racing Mind

Filmed in a palette that reminds one of a black and white photographed tinted to produce a colorized version, giving the film an old timey nostalgic feel.  We can thank Director of Photography Tom Stern ("Trouble with the Curve,", "The Hunger Games," "Hereafter") for these nostalgic visuals.  Understanding that “Jersey Boys” is an adaptation of a theater based musical, one can understand the liberties that the filmmakers have taken in allowing the characters to break the fourth wall and communicate their thoughts directly with the audience.  Unlike musicals of the past, such as “My Fair Lady,”  “Hair,” “The Sound of Music,” “The Music Man,” “West Side Story,” “The King And I,” or “Fiddler on the Roof” to name a few, the performers don’t just launch into a song.  The music is presented in a more natural way.  

John Lloyd Young (Valli), Michael Lomenda (Massi), Erich Bergen (Gaudio) are veteran stage performers who have portrayed their respective parts in the musical version.  John Lloyd Young won a Tony for his rendition of the Italian song legend.  As a newcomer to the film industry, he does a great job of going from a 16 year-old part time barber’s apprentice to a 70 something former legend.  Lomenda played in in the Toronto and touring productions of Jersey Boys as the bands bass player.  Bergan was in the first touring version and spent some time in Vegas reprising the role of the keyboardist and hit songwriter.  Each all sing their parts in the film as they did on stage.  Selecting stage actors from those who are familiar with the characters, the story, and the music is the only logical choice that director Eastwood could make.  Young’s vocals in hitting Valli’s falsetto sets the spine tingling as he launches into “Can't Take My Eyes Off You” and the goose bumps go into overdrive as the full orchestra enters and blows the chorus out of the theater.  

Musically the film is filled with Four Season classics like “Sherry,” “Rag Doll,” “Who Loves You,” “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night),” and “My Eyes Adored You.”  We get to hear at one point or other “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man.” and “Workin' My Way Back to You.”  We also hear other lesser-known hits of the group, such as “My Mother's Eyes” “Opus 17 (Don't You Worry 'bout Me),” “Bye Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye),” “Dawn (Go Away),” and the Four Season’s cover of Maurice Williams “Stay.”  I bet you thought Jackson Brown was the only version out there.  We see and hear the Angels (played by Kim Gatewood, Jackie Seiden, and Kyli Rae) “My Boyfriend's Back” and we hear the Royal Teens’ (Gaudio’s former band) “Short Shorts” as Gaudio’s introduction to the film.  The sound that Gaudio and producer Bob Crewe constructed with Valli’s voice is the catchy sound that appeals to the East Coast working stiffs that continued to flourish during the First Wave of the British music invasion and the rise of the California sound of the same era.  But, once again, keep in mind, the music is not the story.

Jersey Boys - The Four Seasons on American Bandstand | A Constantly Racing Mind

When a storyteller wants to tell a story full of compelling talented characters, landmark events, and the rise and fall of a dream, all one needs to do is tell a story about a band.  Every band has a history, and the interactions of the members are always more complex than one would like it.  “Jersey Boys” tells a “Reader’s Digest” version of the rise and fall of Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio.  Like book adaptations, playwrights Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice give us a winner’s version of the Valli, DeVito relationship.  The characterization of Gyp DeCarlo is that of the benevolent uncle to Valli and DeVito whereas in real life he was a vicious loan shark and murderer.  The film depicts the bands beginnings along with a simplified lineup offered for our viewing pleasure, otherwise one would need programs to keep track of all the band member changes.  

What we see is a mostly coherent timeline from the group’s delinquent beginning to the point where members of the core band part ways.  The bands relationship with producer Bob Crewe, played deliciously by Mike Doyle (“Green Lantern”) is shifted to start later than it did.  Also as writer and producer, Crewe shares songwriting credit with Gaudio for many of the bands biggest hits.  Nick Massi, the bassist and vocal arranger actually left the band in 1965 rather than later as depicted in the film. The film recounts Valli’s troubled marriage to Mary Mandel (RenĂ©e Marino), which lasted 13 years and produced two children.  The film doesn’t mention his two sons from his third wife or his adopted daughter Celia.  The film does go into some detail of the of his daughter Francine’s tragic death of a drug overdose which provides for a more thoughtful change in tone.  The film does show how a young Joe Pesci introduces the band to Bob Gaudio as their newest member.  Yes, that Joe Pesci.

One may wonder if this film is doing justice to the legacy of the Four Seasons, or if this film falls short.  Featuring full sets of the band doing their music isn't the goal that director Eastwood, executive producers Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio seemed to be attempting.  Based on the book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice who also scripted the film, along with the music of Crewe and Gaudio, Eastwood seems to stay faithful to the spirit of the stage version allowing each of the Four Seasons to tell their version of the story.  While focusing on some events while glossing over others does give the audience a few confusing moments. Overall, Eastwood brings a sometimes schmaltzy, sometimes cheesy, but ultimately entertaining version of a story that allows the sounds of the 1960s and the legacy of the Four Seasons to transcend into the 21st century.

Movie Data

Genre: Biography, Drama, Musical
Year:  2014
Staring: John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Christopher Walken
Director: Clint Eastwood
Producer(s): Tim Headington, Graham King, Robert Loren
Writer: Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice
Rating: R
Running Time: 134 minutes
Release Date:  6/20/2014

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