23 June 2014 | kckidjoseph-1
Eastwood Hangs 'Em High in 'Jersey Boys'
Clint Eastwood's movie version of the hit Broadway musical, "The Jersey Boys," a biographical spin on the '60's pop group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, is pure, old-fashioned entertainment in the best sense. One of the most endearing elements of the film (and the most revealing in terms of the tone the director wished to achieve) is its curtain call, after the story has concluded and before the credits pick up steam, a Broadway-ish foot-stomping sashay across the stage by all the characters as though taking a richly earned bow. The last time a film made such an audacious end-credit presentation was in Michael Todd's storied "Around the World in 80 Days" back in 1956, and that's a fur piece, as they say. It's clear from the git-go that Eastwood means to have fun with the story and not wallow in its more melancholy moments, although he hardly ignores them. I loved the stage play and thought it brilliantly captured the dramatic tension while expressing what went wrong with the group via its off-stage antics. Truth to tell, if Eastwood had spent more time on those moments, as some critics complain he should have, the music would have become secondary, and that really would have been a fatal mistake. For the 1950s and '60's in which Valli and his group flourished were a transition from the simpler, more bubble-gummish times to that of gritty realism, and Eastwood gets us there, thank you. As written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, the film has, on the surface, a "Rashomon"-like approach in having each of the Seasons members sequentially telling different portions of the story from their perspective, each breaking the fourth wall at those points to address the audience. In "Rashomon," the 1950 Akira Kurosawa film, four characters tell the story of a rape and murder from four different perspectives, each different; the crime never gets solved, and neither does the mystery. But in "Jersey Boys," the technique clarifies rather than confuses, with the perceptions merely building on the other and enhancing an overall point of view. John Lloyd Young (an exact physical replica of the old movie tough guy Richard Conte if ever there were one) is just dandy in reprising his Tony-winning turn as Frankie (nee Castelluccio), capturing every nuance of Valli's high-pitched virtuosity in songs like "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Sherry," "Walk Like a Man" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." To those of a certain age, the sound is so accurate it will make you want to reach for your dashboard radio to turn the volume up. The Mob's role in the group's rise and fall is nicely depicted if a bit homogenized (thanks to the wonderfully egocentric mini-Godfather put-on by Christopher Walken as local gangster Gyp DeCarlo). Again, Eastwood makes the brave decision to play it this way, and he's right to do so; do we really need to be reminded of how horrible organized crime is? Erich Bergen is perfect as Bob Gaudio, who comes to the group as songwriter and singer in the nick of time thanks to the help of a mutual friend _ none other than the future movie star Joe Pesci (played to the hilt with disarming accuracy by Joseph Russo). Vincent Piazza's Cagney-ish Tommy DeVito, the flawed heart and soul of the group in its early days, is fun to watch and absolutely believable in every way, and Michael Lomenda has excellent moments as Nick Massi, a straight-shooter who finally gets fed up and has the nerve to tell off even Gyp as he speeds away (in a red Cadillac convertible). Mike Doyle's performance as the group's record producer, Bob Crewe, is over-the-top but effective, while Renee Marino as Frankie's sexy-stormy wife, Mary, is powerful and may elicit some supporting-actress nominations. This isn't a great movie, but it's a very, very good and enjoyable one. Eastwood obviously enjoys himself (right down to a tongue-in-cheek Alfred Hitchcock-like cameo via a clip from the old Western series, "Rawhide," which helped make Eastwood a star). So do we.