Jersey Boys (opening today), the film is based on Jersey Boys, the incredibly successful, Tony-award winning play. It's based on the rise to fame of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, who have collectively sold over 100 million records worldwide, with their timeless hits such as "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Rag Doll," "Let's Hang On," "Working My Way Back to You" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," just to name a few. The film is directed by Clint Eastwood, the ancient Hollywood force who was a big star in his own right when Valli and company hit the big-time. He apparently, is just the man the film adaptation needed, infusing the film with lightheartedness, reverence and seemingly (I'm only 35, how would I know?) capturing the look and feel of the 60s and 70s to a tee.
The first great decision was to cast three of the four members of the Four Seasons with three actors who effectively portrayed them on stage. John Lloyd Young (who plays Frankie Vallie), Michael Lomenda (who plays bassist Nick Massi) and Erich Bergen (who plays organist and songwriter, Bob Gaudio) have nearly zero film experience between the three of them, but they own their characters. Filling out the group is the only well-known actor, Vincent Piazza, who plays the hot-headed "founder" of the group, Tommy DeVito. Many will recognize him as Lucky Luciano from HBO's Boardwalk Empire.
We meet these New Jersey boys before they became famous in the 1960s and although their image as "The Four Seasons" may have been squeaky-clean, their background was anything but. Many of them did stints in prison for petty thefts and break-ins. When they discover the amazingly rare vocal talent in young Frank Castelluccio, he changes his name to the more marketable Frankie Valli (on the suggestion of his eventual first-wife, Mary, played by another first-time film actress and veteran from the Jersey Boys stage play, Renee Marino). The rest, they say, is history.
But history can be tricky when remembered by different individuals. Like the play, the film shifts perspective between all four of the main members of the band. As the promotional poster for the movie states, "Everybody remembers it how they need to," and this motto allows for several "are they true?" aspects of their story to be shared. Did a collector really corner them backstage at the Ed Sullivan Show? Did Joe Pesci, the actor, really have a hand in forming the group? This film says he did, and he is portrayed in the story by actor, Joseph Russo.
The film follows their path to super-stardom followed by the inevitable coming-down. Christopher Walken shows up as Gyp DeCarlo, a gangster-type who helps the group along in the beginning. The film is littered with mesmerizing characters and performances, not only from Walken, Russo and Marino, but also from Mike Doyle, who plays music producer Bob Crewe, amongst others.
The real-life story of The Four Seasons sadly does go down that cliched "rise and fall" path. It's something that we have seen showcased countless times, and have seen on numerous episodes of "Behind the Music." The band will enjoy success, then the band will fall on hard times. Jersey Boys doesn't quite rise above this been-there, done-that premise.
Really, this is a film about the music. It's the sort of film that will make you wonder why you don't already have a Four Seasons playlist on your iPod. You'll leave humming one of their many hits, attempting in secret to hit the high notes that Valli has become famous for.
But the real revelation here is the cast. Not just John Lloyd Young, who is great in the role as Valli. By the time the credits rolled, it was Michael Lomenda and Erich Bergen (not to mention, once again, Renee Marino) who really seemed to break-through.
What's not to love about Jersey Boys? It's a feel-good movie about a feel-good group of musicians who gave us some of the most memorable songs of the past half-century. Eastwood strikes the right tone for the telling. Even look for a cameo from the director, as one of his Western's plays in the background of a particular scene.
And that musical number at the end. A celebration of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. I'd guess you wouldn't find yourself in the theater if you weren't already a fan. But if you happen to, it'll be nearly impossible not to become one.
Genre: Biography, Drama, Musical
Run Time: 2 hours, 14 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Vincent Piazza, John Lloyd Young, Michael Lomenda, Erich Bergen, Joseph Russo, Mike Doyle, Christopher Walken
Directed by Clint Eastwood (Hereafter, Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, Unforgiven)
Opens locally on Friday, June 20, 2014 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time