Working its Way Back to You
By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
Point of disclosure: I’m from Jersey. I knew guys of the sort depicted in Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of the Broadway hit, “Jersey Boys.” They were called baddies or greasers, and generally wore black leather jackets, high roll collar shirts and shiny pants. My clique, a subset of the penny loafer, white jeans and madras shirt faction, took pride in echoing those words from the Beach Boys’s “I Get Around”: “Yeah, the bad guys know us and they leave us alone.” Well, they did for the most part.
Thus, this very well written, produced and directed chunk of musical sociology is old home week for me…a walk down memory lane, albeit glorified and sprinkled with stardust. Even when Frankie Valli (nee Castelluccio) and some of his pals who would evolve into The Four Seasons run afoul of the law and do revolving door stints in prison, it’s treated humorously. The really heavy stuff lies ahead.
Mr. Eastwood, aided and abetted by writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who also coauthored the stage production, manages a fine balance of elements…keeping it real and yet for the most part happily optimistic and jaunty.
Uh, I see you have your hand up, the lady in the third row wearing the Carmen Miranda hat. Yes?
“So, you already wrote three paragraphs and didn’t say yet…how does it compare to the Broadway show? I was supposed to see it when the national tour came to Pasadena but I had to have a gallstones procedure, etc., etc….don‘t ask. ”
Well, I’m glad you feel better. I was going to get to that in paragraph # 8, but here goes. While there’s nothing better than the live experience, even if you mortgaged the farm to pay a fortune for tickets and an obscene sum to park your car, this is pretty darn good…a close second. What’s more, if you’ve seen the show and figure this would just be repetitious, know that Mr. Eastwood, retaining the documentary format, makes sure his art medium of choice does what the show could not: tell the details.
Whereas the emphasis in the Great White Way version was, of course, the music…specifically showcasing the hits with which Mr. Valli and company enchanted a generation … here it plays a strong yet correlative role. Oh, you’ll hear all your favorites, all right, but more often they’ll be attached to an event in the tale, either happy or sad, that supposedly inspired them. The clichéd mainstay, while a tad overstated, pleases a romantic sense.
But by the same token, we’re confident Eastwood takes few liberties in recounting the group’s nascence and rise to fame. Counseled by Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio, who serve as executive producers, he establishes an authenticity you can almost touch. OK, so the outdoor New Jersey scenes are filmed in Kearny and not Belleville and Newark. It’s just across the Passaic River.
More importantly, the filmmaker nostalgically captures the temper of the times, evoking the sociocultural traits of its personalities without opportunistically pandering to the popular stereotypes of the demography propagated in TV shows. Auto buffs are sure to kvell from the beauteous array of cars lining the streets in 1950s and 60’s Belleville, N.J.
But let’s face it. ‘Twas the music emanating from this burg that brought attention and focus to it…just as it did to numerous urban hamlets where young folks with dreams of stardom cemented friendships through harmony under streetlamps. Even if the director merely had this foursome sing the iconic hits, I’d still probably have to give it a 2 & ½.
Granted, the rise, flourish and fall of a rock group has practically become a theatrical genre unto itself. All the same, this version adds poignant nuance to the confluence of battling egos, artistic differences, irksome idiosyncrasies and the musical camaraderie that initially formed the band and then held it together for as long as it could.
While lead player John Lloyd Young doesn’t impress on first blush, he ultimately morphs into Frankie Valli and wins you over. Likewise, while none of the four main performers has one uttering comparisons to Olivier, Hoffman or Pacino, as an ensemble they are award-worthy. And if it weren’t that it just isn’t done anymore, you’d swear the toe-tapping stream of memorable hits was dubbed from the originals.
Bottom line, this is more an event movie than cinema…a celebration of the American dream. I’ve checked the movie times in Kearney (Nebraska, that is); Mobile, Alabama; and Anchorage, Alaska. So now, folks who never got to see the play can discover what all the shouting is about, while fans who simply can’t take their eyes off “Jersey Boys” will be able to walk like a man, or woman, to a nearby theatre and again hear Frankie beseech Sherry to come out tonight.
“Jersey Boys,” rated R, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Clint Eastwood and stars John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza and Erich Bergen. Running time: 134 minutes