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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 20 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 25
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Hard to take eyes (or ears) off of Eastwood's Boys

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

Everyone knows a song sung by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons whether they realize it or not. Their signature tunes, stuff like 'Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You,' 'Big Girls Don't Cry' and 'Walk Like a Man,' having a timeless singularity to them that transcends genre and era. With Valli's unique voice giving them inspiring resonance, the group's influence can be felt in wide-ranging fashion spanning the gamut between Rock, Pop, Country, R&B and Hip Hop, making them as vital a part of 1960s musical American as any artist birthed during the decade.

Clint Eastwood probably seemed like an unlikely choice to helm a movie version of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Jersey Boys, the chronicling of Valli and his bandmate's rise to fame not initially seeming as something that would be in the Unforgiven, Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby filmmaker's wheelhouse. Yet his old Hollywood, tried and true sensibilities work rather well as far as the telling of this particular story is concerned, and while certain elements do indeed fall a little flat, overall his adaptation of the smash musical manages to pack quite the melodiously punch all the same.

It helps considerably that he made the decision to bring Tony-winner John Lloyd Young along for the ride, the remarkably talented actor reprising his role as Valli from the Broadway stage. He is magnificent, holding each scene with a magnetic resonance that's continually hypnotizing. He knows this character inside and out, mining his complicated emotional territories, bringing me to tears and rousing me to euphoric ecstasy with shocking ease. Young has moments here that ripped my heart out with subtle ferocity, signature moments during the climactic stretch involving his daughter Francine (Freya Tingley) and the subsequent birth of 'Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You' indescribably mind-blowing.

He's not the only one Eastwood culled from theatrical presentations of the material. Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda were part of the national touring company, each reprising their roles here giving bang-up performances in the process. Renée Marino was part of the Broadway production, and while her time on-screen as Valli's first wife Mary Delgado is cut a little short, the chemistry and intimacy she manages to ooze alongside Young is palpably authentic right from the start all the same.

The story itself is in many ways your typical rise, fall and rise again piece, chronicling Valli's early days eking out a survival in his close-knit New Jersey neighborhood alongside best friend and smalltime hoodlum Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza). With the blessing of local crime kingpin Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken) the pair, with friend and bassist Nick Massi (Lomenda), form a semi-successful musical group. But it isn't until they add someone from outside the neighborhood, piano player and songwriter Bob Gaudio (Bergen), that things start to take off, the talented lyricist adding the missing piece to the puzzle setting them all on the fast-track to success.

Even if it's all true (more or less), from that point forward things follow a relatively predictable path. What makes it interesting is that screenwriters Marshall Brickman (Manhattan Murder Mystery) and Rick Elice retain the conceit from their show of having the three secondary members of the Four Season (i.e. not Valli) directly address the audience, repeatedly breaking the fourth wall in order to hammer certain plot points home. It allows them all to have their own idiosyncratic imprint on what is going on and why, making the film something of a musical Rashômon forcing the viewer to decide which parts are embellished and which are the honest truth.

At the same time, it should be noted that in some ways Eastwood's old school sensibilities do let him down a time or two. The movie has trouble maintaining organic momentum, the visual styling, the way scenes are attached to one another, it all tends to feel a little dry, a little stilted, every now and then. Momentum can be hard to come by every now and then, and whenever the drama slows down to garner extra insights into the deteriorating relationship between Valli and DeVito things get more than a little bit bumpy. Walken's presence, while not unappealing, is also a little on the distracting side, his familiar ticks and tricks calling way too much attention to themselves in what is otherwise a sea of fresh-faced, unrecognizable newcomers.

But the musical moments are to die for, especially the birthing of both 'Sherry' and 'Big Girls Don't Cry,' while the debut of 'Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You' is absolutely stupendous. The last twenty minutes of the motion picture is decidedly strong, and even with some old age makeup that makes the prosthetics used in Eastwood's J. Edgar look photorealistic in comparison (this is not a compliment) the last moments are undeniably magnificent. There is a power to be found here that took me by total surprise, all of it brought home thanks to a performance from Young that's easily one of the best I'm going to see in all of 2014.

I've never seen the stage version of Jersey Boys. I can't tell you how it compares to this adaptation. And, in all honesty, I shouldn't be forced to. Cinema should speak for itself, and while some things decidedly work better on the stage than they do when projected inside a movie house, the dramatics strengths lurking and lingering inside Eastwood's latest are impossible to dismiss, and harder to resist, nonetheless. This girl did indeed cry while watching the film, and if I were to watch it again, I bet I'd have just as much trouble taking my eyes off of it a second time around as I did the first.

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