When a cinema audience applauds at the end of a film, you know they’ve enjoyed it in a big way. That’s what happened yesterday when I saw ‘Jersey Boys’, the bio-pic about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, adapted from the musical of the same name. Admittedly, the audience consisted almost exclusively of Baby Boomers and older Gen Xers, the very people who grew up with the catchy music which made the Four Seasons famous. But I have a feeling that whatever the demographic of the audience, they would have found this a highly entertaining movie.
Now for some stats. This is the thirty-third film that eighty-four-year-old Clint Eastwood has directed. And yes, I admit I’m an Eastwood fan. If you thought he could only make Westerns, think again. This guy is versatile in the extreme – he can direct any genre. One of the best thrillers ever made (and an archetype for thriller-makers to come) was Eastwood’s directorial debut, ‘Play Misty for Me’, in which he also starred. And if you’re puzzled about Clint directing a musical, he’s no tyro when it comes to music. He included a long (some might say over-long) sequence in ‘Play Misty for Me’ set at the Monterey Jazz Festival. And in the eighties he directed ‘Bird’, the bio-pic about Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, the quintessential jazz saxophonist. Clint is wise enough to approach his latest film with a light hand, allowing his talented team of actors to do their thing and the musical soundtrack to propel the action.
The theatrical origins of 'Jersey Boys' are obvious in the way the characters address the audience directly at key points in the story. But rather than detracting from the film, these direct-to-camera moments add to its richness. And I love the final ensemble number which could have come straight out of a theatre and spilt onto the street.
The performances are perfect in every respect. That’s why it’s hard to single out anyone for special notice. Having said that, John Lloyd Young, who was in the original Broadway cast, is outstanding as Frankie Valli, short in stature but endowed with a good heart and an amazing voice. Erich Bergen is great too as the immensely talented songwriter/performer Bob Gaudio. Jut-jawed Vincent Piazza as Tommy de Vito captures the bravado and vulnerability of the founding member of the band. And Christopher Walken was born to play the mob boss who’s very scary but also possesses a sense of humour as indicated by a raised eyebrow or the briefest of Walkenian smiles. Being a movie buff, I loved Joey Russo playing a very young Joe Pesce, yes, the famous Joe Pesce of ‘Goodfellas’ fame, but before he became an actor, when he was just Tommy de Vito's buddy.
The look of this film is perfect too, especially the early scenes set in the 1950s in Belleville, New Jersey. Eastwood has used sepia and olive tones to capture the atmosphere of the Jersey streets. There are many natty touches in the set design. For example, when we first enter Frankie’s home, the camera pauses briefly on a gilt wall clock with framed portraits flanking the dial. On one side, as you’d expect, there’s a picture of the Pope; on the other, who else but Frank Sinatra? Every Jersey boy, and particularly anyone who could sing, wanted to grow up to be Frank.
One of the best lines in a screenplay full of pithy dialogue is spoken by Frankie’s first wife, Mary Delgado (played by Renée Marino). Frankie tells her he wants to change his name from Castelluccio to Vally but she tells him firmly that it has to be spelt ‘Valli’ with an 'i' because Italian names have to end in a vowel.
I couldn’t finish this review without mentioning the costumes. I expect this film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Costume Design. In fact, Frankie Valli’s array of sweaters deserve an award of their own.
So, if you have a spare couple of hours this coming weekend, I’d recommend Eastwood’s ‘Jersey Boys’. You’ll be humming along with the songs (‘Sherry’, ‘Rag Doll’, ‘Oh What a Night’, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’) and tapping your feet to the rhythm. And if you’re like me, the melodies will linger in your head long after you leave the cinema.
July 13, 2014