The Four Seasons story is an amazing chunk of pop music culture, Top 40 success overshadowing such greats and chart runs as experienced by Chubby Checker, Connie Francis and others who ruled the Top 40 back at the time of its rock & roll inception. “Vacation” by Connie Francis, though an immense pop moment, and the immortal “The Twist” do not have as much recognition today – with this generation – that a “Sherry” or a “Rag Doll” or “Walk Like A Man” enjoy – due, of course, to the Broadway and worldwide success of Jersey Boys, a streak sure to continue with the release of this film.
The choice of one of my favorite directors, Clint Eastwood, to be involved in the transformation of the stage play to the silver screen may not have been the best choice. The same film textures he used in 2008’s Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie, are found in this period piece and work well, but the liberties taken are to see the group’s emergence through a lens that the general public was not privy to, and as with Oliver Stone’s The Doors, alters the perception of the public to an institution that is the soundtrack to many of our lives.
Jarring is the portrayed flamboyance of record producer Bob Crewe – the name Liberace tossed into the mix so that there’s nothing left to the imagination. Yes, it was a different time, but the caricature of such an important figure for the audience to laugh at, not with, is overdone.
While the iconic music mogul resides in a nursing home in Maine after a fall, this projection is hardly politically correct.
Eastwood’s cinematic adventures include such Soprano’s-tinged fare as Play Misty For Me (made long before The Sopranos ever existed,) Bloodwork, Absolute Power, the aforementioned Changeling and many more in body of work that is sometimes as uneven as it is superb. The writers and Eastwood focus on the mob aspect of the group’s history rather than Frankie Valli’s other notable moments – the song “Grease” a good case in point. The huge hit from a monster film, and a convergence of two top harmony groups – the singer of the Four Seasons working with the Bee Gees, is totally ignored for this motion picture as we leap-frog right to the 1990 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Even the latter-day success of this writer’s least-favorite 4 Seasons number, “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” – played at the beginning and end of the movie – is not even touched upon as part of the group’s history and success. In a biopic it is too important to not be an integral part of the story. Here, it is performed for audience appreciation.
Tony-winner John Lloyd Young who played Nelson Hirsch in 2009’s Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay!! – and who performed as Valli on the stage version of Jersey Boys – is recruited for the film. He’s got the chops and does a good job, and the movie itself got a great audience response at the June 17, 2014 screening in Boston.
So it is what it is. A very popular stage play gets the cinematic treatment and is very entertaining. It isn’t as cheesy as The Doors, which is a plus, Oliver Stone hurting himself and music history with that display. But it also is not as riveting as Bloodwork or Absolute Power, two films where Eastwood knocked it out of the park.
Is enough history preserved here to give Bob Crewe, Bob Gaudio, Frankie Valli and the Four Season their due? Sure, the Royal Teens “Shorts Shorts” is as important to the foundation as is the nod to musician/actor Joe Pesci is to this vital episode of 1950s/1960s/1970s Americana.
More of the Jersey Boys review after the trailer…
Jersey Boys Official Trailer:
It’s good to note the Wikipedia information that Pesci’s Oscar-winning performance as Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas was a nod to the founding member of the Four Seasons. And there, moviegoer, you have the line that is crossed where art takes a snapshot from real life.
In 1990, he reunited with Scorsese and De Niro for Goodfellas, where he played mobster Tommy DeVito, based on real-life mobster Thomas DeSimone. Pesci received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the role, which he accepted with the shortest speech in Oscar history, saying simply, “It’s my privilege. Thank you,” before leaving the stage. (Coincidentally, or perhaps as an homage, Tommy DeVito is also the actual name of Pesci’s old acquaintance from Belleville, NJ—the real-life Four Seasons band founder Tommy DeVito, noted below).
Jersey Boys will entertain you, it was put in the hands of a master craftsman, Clint Eastwood, and despite its flaws, it gets enough of the story right.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.