18 June 2014 | LloydBayer
A brilliant narration on the true cost of fame and fortune and how pain and loss can conceive everlasting music.
There's a reason why the 1960s is widely known as the "Golden Era" of music, specifically, the birth of what is now called Rock n Roll. Comprising of four British teenagers from Liverpool, The Beatles produced their first album (Please Please Me) in 1963 and went on to be regarded as the greatest rock and roll band of all time. But just a year earlier, in 1962, four boys from New Jersey made heads turn and girls swoon with a unique 'sound' to their music. Jersey Boys is the phenomenal true story of a 'sound' that took four boys from New Jersey's mob controlled suburbs and made them into the icons they are today – legends whose music is still celebrated more than five decades on!
Produced and directed by another living legend – Clint Eastwood – Jersey Boys is a Tony Award winning Broadway and West End musical adaptation of the same name. Scripted by Woody Allen's Oscar winning collaborate Marshall Brickman (Anne Hall and Manhattan), the story benefits from a deeply dramatized account of the stage production, thus making it a biopic rather than just a musical. This is why the audience has to wait a good hour before Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) makes our feet tap to the film's first real track: Sherry. But before we get to hear Young's remarkable rendition of Valli's incredible falsetto pitch, Brickman's story takes us through New Jersey's underworld circa. Valli is a good Italian-American kid but his friend Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) is just the opposite. They are both connected to local mobster Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken). Taking Valli under his wing, Tommy puts together a small time band but only manages mediocre returns while also moonlighting as juvenile delinquents. This changes with the arrival of Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), a golden goose of a singer- song writer whose epiphany changes the band's name from The Four Lovers to The Four Seasons. Then, with the addition of bass guitarist and singer Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), Sherry, their first song as a band, becomes a hit and the group is instantly catapulted into nationwide fame.
By the time we get to the band's all-time number one hit single, Can't Take My Eyes Off You, there's trouble brewing. Domestic heartbreak and tragedy, ego trips and quarrels, financial crises and mob intervention turns cracks into fissures. Reminding us that this is in fact a stage show adaptation, Eastwood creates individual perceptions by allowing each member of the band to narrate his story directly to the camera. While this might seem like a theatre-cinema blending technique (ala Moulin Rouge!), it adds wholesome dimensions as a biography made for the discerning cinema audience. Adding on to that dimension is the juxtaposition of organized crime with the evolution of Doo-wop into rock and pop. In fact, there is a brief reference to Frank Sinatra, who as legendary as himself, was known to have ties with Chicago's notorious mobster Al Capone. To this effect, the story also includes real life actor Joe Pesci (Joey Russo) as a talent scout who recommends Bob to the band. Synonymous with mobster roles in previous films, Walken himself might seem like a cliché, but instead is entrusted with the film's humour and he delivers. Characterization from the rest leaves more to be desired. Young as front man Valli and Piazza as Tommy are more theatrical than expected in a film. It's a different matter when we get to see them perform as musicians – simply astonishing!
That there is no reference to era specific bands like The Beach Boys or the Bee Gees can be another letdown. Instead, Brickman's script remains parallel to the stage production with emphasis on an underdog rags-to-riches plot arc. Even so, as Eastwood's first musical adaptation, Jersey Boys has more hits than misses (excuse the pun). Like the Academy Award winning Walk The Line, a lot of focus has gone into the back story by dramatizing the true cost of fame and fortune. Above all, it is a brilliant narration on how pain and loss can conceive everlasting music. And judging from the need to make this film, it's no surprise that the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons will always remain evergreen.