Jersey Boys

I don’t need to do anything more than quote a line from “Sherry”. Movie fans, “Won’t you come out tonight!”

Jersey BoysIf you were teenage boys in New Jersey in the 1960’s, how could fabulous musical talent save you from prison and still come close to ruining your lives? Jersey Boys is a provocative drama that tells that story and others, and it is overwhelmingly likely to twist you into an emotional knot as you watch the boys rise to success.

Right or wrong, I haven’t seen the play, so I went to the movie without any type of illusions. As probably done in the play itself, the film is frequently told with various characters addressing the camera.

It begins with a roguish lad named Tommy DeVito, played with a good deal of spunk by Vincent Piazza, describing how music saved our boys from prolonged incarceration. In fact, Tommy and his brother Nick (Johnny Cannizzaro), both soon to become members of the Four Seasons, had been jailed following various criminal convictions without exhibiting the slightest care in the world.

It is giving nothing away to say that the lads struck gold with the discovery of Frankie Valli, played with class and style by John Lloyd Young, who had no trouble taking his Broadway performance to the silver screen. However, even though Frankie’s voice was the classic “Silhouette on the Shade” , they still didn’t have songs to make their act work, much less a name that could be recognized.

All of that changed by way of a happy accident when Bobby Gaudio (Erich Bergen) joins the group. Bobby was a genius song writer, and he penned “Sherry” in 1962. The rest is history.

While I thought all the boys did a great job playing hard-nosed individuals who coalesced into a group, once again Christopher Walken strolls in and finds a way to dominate everything. He plays Gyp DeCarlo, a mobster with a heart, and he takes Frankie under his wing to make sure he gets a shot at the big time.

Nobody is better at playing a mobster than Mr. Walken. He has a long list of sterling accomplishments, but you all need to hunt down his memorable roles recently in Seven Psychopaths and Stand Up Guys, both out in 2012, and Kill the Irishman (2011). You can’t help but feel that if Walken was the governor of New Jersey, he’d refuse to close down the George Washington Bridge to avoid hurting working class people.

As the Four Seasons find success, traveling takes an enormous toll on their personal lives. Valli’s marriage was never strong to begin with, and his wife (Renee Marino) was a strong-willed woman with a drinking problem that took its toll.

While Mr. Gaudio was the moral backbone of the group, Tommy DeVito was a one-man wrecking crew. Though he contributed to the boys success by managing them, he secretly diverted over a million and a half dollars to finance his own excesses, and it came close to ruining everyone.

On the other hand, his brother Nick was an easy-going, quiet guy, who memorably decided to leave the group when he sought a way to rebuild his family. When Walken tried to get him to reconsider, Nick memorably responded in words to the effect, “If you’ve tapped the big time in a group where your name is Ringo Starr, it is time to return to your family and say hello again.”

Needless to say, this film has taken a brutal hit from many critics, most unloading on Director Clint Eastwood. While I won’t try to defend his regrettable performance at Mitt Romney’s Republican coronation, he makes all the pieces fit with Jersey Boys.

Sure, I may be biased given the fact I graduated from high school and college in the 1960’s, the time when the Four Seasons made their mark. Regardless, they were a hit that transcended where Kanye and Drake stand today, and it is worth remembering a moment in our history even if the music is now locked away in a museum vault.

Let me close with the observation that you have to stay for the knockout closing sequence that accompanies the credits. After seeing Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, Mr. Eastwood suddenly flashes back to when they were young and just starting to sing  “Oh What a Night”. What you see is the group dancing as they walk down the street, gradually joined by all cast members in the process. It is a joyous experience, and it makes the whole film worthwhile in and of itself.