Movie Review - Jersey Boys

A scene late in Clint Eastwood's funniest film since Gran Torino has Frankie Valli, played by John Lloyd Young, and his girlfriend arguing about how much time they spend together. Frankie's girlfriend ends things by telling Frankie that he'll never leave Jersey.

Frankie is an amazing singer, the lead of the quartet, known as The Four Seasons. Even though he's on tour with that band to various places around the country, he seems tethered to the Garden State in a way that's supposed to be abnormal or detrimental.

Writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice never establish that tether. The way Eastwood directs doesn't help because there is no sense of location. The fact that they live in New Jersey is incidental. There's nothing visually that distinguishes it as New Jersey. It's photographed in a typically, Eastwood way, which is beautiful in its own right but not particularly standout.

It's Jersey more in cultural stereotypes as expressed by the actors. The Guido, the accent, the wise-guy attitude, the white, Irish-Catholic sensibilities, often in extreme, the boozing, the womanizing and the mafia connections are all on full display. Whereas Martin Scorsese captures these sensibilities in an almost documentary fashion. Eastwood seems to be doing a parody, one that is a practical, 50-year precursor to MTV's Jersey Shore.

Eastwood is adapting the Broadway musical of the same name and that level or that kind of humor or parody is inherent in a lot of Broadway musicals and their adaptations. In that, the success comes mostly in the writing and the acting, and in terms of the performances, they're all enjoyable in their own ways.

The best is Vincent Piazza (Boardwalk Empire) who plays Tommy DeVito, the guitarist. No relation to Danny DeVito, but Tommy is revealed to be friends with Joe Pesci, the real-life actor from several Scorsese films like Goodfellas or even the Oscar-winning comedy My Cousin Vinny (1992). There is a new actor who plays Joe Pesci. That actor is Joseph Russo. Yet, Piazza behaves more like the Joe Pesci, the on-screen persona, we've come to know. Piazza is hilarious. He's bold. He's in-your-face. He curses like a sailor and he's mostly self-serving.

Erich Bergen who plays Bob Gaudio, the songwriter, is great as well. He might come off as green and as virginal as Frankie does in the beginning, but his knowledge and gifts are surprising. Johnny Cannizzaro who plays Nicky DeVito is a less abrasive version of Tommy but then becomes sidelined and subjugated, simmering to eventually he boils.

These actors as their characters make asides to the camera. Some add to the humor. Some are redundant and unnecessary, but an early aside points out that there are only three ways to get out Jersey or in this case referring to "Jersey" as the relative poverty they found themselves.

In early scenes, Frankie and the boys do things that might seem like they're trying to get out Jersey, but it doesn't ever really feel like an actual goal for any of them, including Frankie. At first, Frankie follows the criminal pursuits of Tommy who is a kleptomaniac at times, older and more connected to the mob, the local head of which is Gyp DeCarlo, played by Christopher Walken. Being embraced by Gyp and protected by him is a badge of honor.

When both Tommy and Nicky are arrested, the look on Frankie's face and his reactions are not ones of regret or guilt, it's almost that of jealousy and sadness over being left out. Eventually and rather quickly, Frankie wants to separate himself from Tommy who is the band leader. Yet, he could never truly break away and in a critical moment, he chooses to sacrifice himself for Tommy, which somewhat ties him to Tommy or ties himself down.

A scene toward the end has Frankie not happy about being actually behind bars in a prison. Yet, an outright choice that Frankie makes actively puts him in a metaphorical prison, a prison though metaphorical, yet is one of which Frankie is fully aware. The performances in moments make the case of the bond between Frankie and Tommy that he would make such a choice, but the movie as a whole never convincingly makes that case.

The case that the movie does make is the prison-like or trapped existence of certain performers, despite their talent or ability. Eastwood doesn't depict much of the glitz and glamour of The Four Seasons, even in their heyday. Yes, crucial moments are depicted like their debut on American Bandstand or their appearance of The Ed Sullivan Show with the occasional shots of audience applause, but for the most part the boys are insulated and within a Jersey bubble that never makes them come across as superstars.

Even though there was a huge rise, it never feels like a huge rise. Frankie always feels like he's struggling and by the end he still seems desperate. He takes an a lot of debt and spends most of time scrounging here to there, working to pay it off. This is perhaps an aspect that many musicians find themselves, though isn't portrayed.

The voices of Frankie and the others were beautiful. The songs, which were actually performed by the actors, are great. Many of which are still stuck in my head. Again, I liked much of the comedy, including many of Tommy's one-liners.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language throughout.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 14 mins.


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