The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Jersey Boys

There are basically two types of Clint Eastwood-directed movies: the kind for which he's a natural fit (Unforgiven, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby) and the kind for which he's an awkward fit (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Invictus, J. Edgar). When he's directing the former, he often turns in award-worthy pictures with lots of story and character depth. When he's directing the latter, his movies which are almost always two-plus hours long can feel ponderous and slow. There can be exceptions to that rule, though. Eastwood seemed a terrible choice to direct The Bridges of Madison County, yet turned in an emotionally powerful romance that elevated its source material. And now there's Jersey Boys. The wisdom of Clint Eastwood doing the film version of a Broadway musical seems questionable at best, but it works because, when it comes right down to it, he's a skilled storyteller and Jersey Boys has one heck of a good story to tell.

As everyone probably knows, this is the story of iconic '60s rock group the Four Seasons. John Lloyd Young (who won a Tony for the stage version) plays Frankie Castelluccio, a New Jersey teen who aspires to become a professional singer when he's not pulling off petty crimes. Frankie is mentored by his temperamental best friend/bandmate Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) in both the music business and the ways of wooing ladies. Together with more low-key bassist Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), they begin to make a name for themselves. Castelluccio even starts going by the moniker Frankie Valli. Their fortunes take a turn for the better when a pal Joe Pesci (Joseph Russo), who of course went on to be an Oscar-winning actor introduces them to singer/songwriter Bob Guadio (Erich Bergen). He starts penning a series of hit songs that take the Four Seasons to the top of the charts. DeVito, however, seems intent on bringing the band back down to the ground. His controlling nature and complicated connections to organized crime ultimately have serious repercussions for the Four Seasons. Christopher Walken has a supporting role as a made man with a soft spot for Frankie's voice that makes him willing to help them out when needed.

Time for a necessary confession: I hate the Four Seasons. Frankie Valli has an amazing voice, but the band's music never connected with me. Maybe it's because I'm not from their generation. Who knows why? The point is that, honestly, I wasn't expecting to enjoy Jersey Boys all that much. I didn't think I cared about how the band came to be. Well, surprise, surprise. Not knowing their story, I had no clue how compelling it is. Most musicals are feel-good; this one is almost a feel-bad musical. Frankie Valli and his colleagues didn't have an easy road, and the scepter of the mob was constantly hanging over them. At the same time that they were making wildly successful pop music, they were also dealing with behind-the-scenes issues that other bands would never have to think about. These twists and turns give Jersey Boys a gritty, engaging narrative for Eastwood to work with. I won't spoil it for anyone else unfamiliar with the tale, but Frankie Valli does something that alters not only the course of his career but also of his whole life, and he does it in the name of loyalty. This is, by far, the most fascinating aspect of the story. Eastwood, working from a screenplay by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, has always had a well-known love of music, and he dramatizes these events with a keen sense of interest and observation.

Jersey Boys also works because of the casting. Young, Bergen, and Lomenda all appeared in the stage version of the show at some point, so they know these characters inside and out. All are excellent, as is Vincent Piazza as the narcissistic Tommy. Aside from being individually strong, they are also exceptionally believable as a band. The actors give each of their characters a fully-developed personality, while also generating a very believable, authentic group dynamic. We understand how these guys cooperate, how and why they form certain alliances within the band, why disputes between them arise, and so on. This becomes crucial toward the third act of Jersey Boys when the Four Seasons hit a wall that leaves them in tatters. The film gets to this point honestly, so that everything we know about these musicians separately and collectively comes to fruition.

At 134 minutes, Jersey Boys is admittedly a bit too long. Some of the early scenes of Frankie's juvenile delinquent days drag on. It could have used more development of Frankie Valli's home life, too. His wives get short shrift; the first is little more than a drunk with no understanding of fame's demands, while the second is the same, minus the booze. There's additionally a subplot about his daughter that isn't explored enough to make its resolution pay off meaningfully. The film would have been tighter trimming some of the earlier scenes to make room for more of the family material.

Even with those caveats, Jersey Boys is an entertaining movie, whether you like this group or not. Eastwood successfully pulls off the concept of having each of the band members break the fourth wall to talk to the audience and even express occasionally dissenting points of view. The musical numbers are simply but energetically staged. Most of all, you've got four incredibly charismatic actors digging deep into the psyche of this beloved rock group. I may not like the Four Seasons' music any better in the future, but one thing's for sure: knowing their remarkable backstory, I'll never listen to them the same way again.

( out of four)

Blu-Ray Features:

Jersey Boys
Own Jersey Boys on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD, and Digital HD on 11/11

Jersey Boys comes to Blu-Ray, DVD, and Digital HD on November 11. The Blu-Ray has some very entertaining bonus features. "From Broadway to the Big Screen" is a 23-minute look at how Jersey Boys was adapted for film. Special attention is paid to Eastwood's decision to largely use cast members from the show. All major actors are present to discuss their familiarity with the roles, as well as the differences between acting on stage versus on screen.

"Too Good To Be True" runs about five minutes and focuses on actor Donnie Kehr, who plays Norm Waxman in the film. He talks about having played both Waxman and Gyp DeCarlo (the Christopher Walken role) on stage. Finally, "Oh What a Night To Remember" is a five-minute piece on the musical sequence that ends Jersey Boys. It's especially notable for amusing footage of Eastwood learning some choreography alongside his actors. All these features are quite informative and engaging.

An UltraViolet copy of the movie is also included.

Jersey Boys is rated R for language throughout. The running time is 2 hours and 14 minutes.

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