Saturday, 20 September, 2014

Published July 18, 2014
And the four guys struck musical gold
Jersey Boys is about family, finding yourself - and thus each other, says GEOFFREY EU
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Showstoppers: Sequences from 'Jersey Boys' (above). The movie tells the story of four young men from the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey who came together to form the iconic 1960s rock group The Four Seasons.

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Any band with more than a hundred million records sold and a solid catalogue of enduring pop songs must have done something right.

GROWING up on the wrong side of the tracks in 1950s New Jersey, there were only three options available to you, according to a main character in Jersey Boys, Clint Eastwood's all-too-measured yet still-entertaining take on the hit Broadway musical.

You could join the army, get mixed up with the Mob, or become famous. The guys known collectively as The Four Seasons managed two out of the three: It wasn't an easy ride, but it worked out alright in the end.

Any band with more than a hundred million records sold and a solid catalogue of enduring pop songs - many of them now more than half a century old - must have done something right. Jersey Boys tells the tale of how - despite doing their level best to mess up success - they struck musical gold.

Eastwood, a filmmaker with a deliberate storytelling style and a taste for jazz, isn't an obvious choice for this gig, but he must have found something appealing in the stage musical, which has been playing to packed houses for close to a decade. The creators of the musical, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, contributed the screenplay here, and don't deviate too far from the original.

This includes having the primary characters talk directly to the audience, an intimate if sometimes distracting narrative device that draws us naturally into the story. Like the characters it portrays, this film has a take-it-or-leave-it Jersey attitude, and our level of enjoyment depends on how deeply we buy into the conceit. Those classic songs will help tip the scales in its favour.

The main narrator is Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), a small-time hood who deals in stolen goods and has a sideline playing in a band with his buddies. After a few false starts, Tommy co-opts young neighbourhood friend Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young) into the group as lead singer.

The reason is readily apparent - Frankie's pure, high-pitched voice is a "gift from God", opines Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken), the local Mafia boss and Frankie's Number One Fan.

Frankie changes his name to Valley and then Valli. "'Y' is a bullshit letter," advises his wife Mary (Renee Marino), who is soon relegated to a back-up role as frustrated, alcoholic housewife while Frankie and the band - now called The Four Seasons - go on the road as a minor act while also trying to hook onto a record label.

Another regular member is bassist Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), who stays in the background - until one memorable scene near the end.

Their big break comes when they meet Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), a gifted young songwriter with business savvy who becomes the pivotal fourth member of the band.

He and Frankie pitch a song to producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle) and before you can say "Who Loves You?" the Seasons and their distinctive four-part harmony are on their way to stardom with three number one hits and a horde of appreciative fans.

Life in the limelight and on tour takes a heavy toll on relationships, Frankie suffers a personal tragedy and Tommy's selfish, destructive behaviour doesn't endear himself to the others.

But you better believe they do things differently in Jersey. The music is great of course, but ultimately Jersey Boys is about family, finding yourself - and each other in the process.

Rating: B-