Northampton Press

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Movie Review: 'Jersey Boys' sings it like it was

Wednesday, July 2, 2014 by PAUL WILLISTEIN in Focus

After Frank Sinatra and before Bruce Springsteen (those other Jersey Boys), there was The Four Seasons, one of the top pop groups of all time, having sold 100 million records.

The Four Seasons were so popular, the group rivaled The Beatles on the record charts, resulting in the 1964 Vee-Jay promotional album, "The Beatles vs. The Four Seasons: The International Battle Of The Century."

The Four Seasons' recordings influenced not only Springsteen, but Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys and a generation of songwriters and hit-makers.

The Four Seasons' sound combined Frankie Valli's amazing falsetto and expressive lead vocals, augmented with echo chamber and vocal overdubbing, with the bass vocal of doo-wop groups and the big-drum and bass production sound of Bob Crewe and catchy music and lyrics of Bob Gaudio (some co-written with Crewe).

Behind every great pop-rock band is a story. These stories have been fodder for MTV rockumentaries and VH1 rock docs. The rock 'n' roll and pop star biopic has been a staple of Hollywood movies for decades. "Jersey Boys" is in the tradition of the great rock 'n' roll movie biopics.

"Jersey Boys" gives the story behind all those Baby Boomer era hits by The Four Seasons sung along to and enjoyed by the dashboard lights.

The movie, and the musical stage show it's based on, enshrines Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, inducted in 1990 into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, for a string of early- to mid-1960's hit pop songs, including "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like A Man," "Candy Girl," "Dawn," "Rag Doll," "Bye Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye)," "Working My Way Back To You," "Let's Hang On" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" (released as a solo by Valli).

Valli (born Francesco Stephen Castelluccio) had a 1970's rennaisance with the title song from the movie, "Grease" (1978) and the hit songs "My Eyes Adored You," "Swearin' To God," "Who Loves You" and "December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night)."

Valli continues to tour and present concerts.

"Jersey Boys," directed with consummate and understated skill by Clint Eastwood, is based on the hit Broadway play, "Jersey Boys," which opened in 2005 and received six Tony Awards.

While the founding of the Four Seasons group and the shaping of the hits is fascinating, the story behind the group is astounding, jaw-dropping and, at times, hilarious. Yes, the group was named after a bowling alley in Union Township, N.J., where it performed.

It seems that for success in the music business, sheer vocal talent, musicianship and great-sounding records aren't enough. Success takes muscle. And, if the storyline in "Jersey Boys" can be believed, that muscle was mob muscle.

And here is where Christopher Walken, in one of his cheekiest and most fun turns ever, enters, as Gyp DeCarlo, sort of the Four Seasons and especially Frankie Valli's Godfather.

There's also a seemingly rival "wise guy," who latched onto the Four Seasons tuxedo coattails early: Norm Waxman (Donnie Kehr), who, the movie tells us, the band ended up in hock to, to the tune of something like $162,000.

That, combined with some $600,000 in other debt that one of the Four Seasons' band members allegedly racked up, led Frankie Valli to go back on the road for many years to pay down what we're told was $1 million the band was indebted for.

In the screenplay by Marshall Brickman ("Annie Hall," 1977; "Manhattan," 1979), who co-wrote the book for the musical with Rick Elise, "Jersey Boys" weaves in Valli's marital problems, as well as the individual problems of the group's members.

Eastwood makes a bold choice in having each of the Four Seasons talk directly to camera, in keeping with the concept of the stage play, "Jersey Boys." This gives the story the sense of "Rashomon" (1950) and a Shakespeare play.

John Lloyd Young, who played Frankie Valli in the Broadway show, is terrific in voice and attitude.

Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito, the group's guitarist, explodes off the screen as someone "not properly socialized."

Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio, the Four Seasons' songwriter, provides a measure of sanity.

Mike Doyle as Bob Crewe, the Four Seasons' producer, is a hoot.

Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi, the Four Seasons' bass singer, has some nice moments.

Baby Boomers, rock and pop music aficionados, and fans of the 1950s and '60s music scene will not want to miss "Jersey Boys." The film puts into perspective what one of America's great pop groups was all about.

"Jersey Boys," MPAA rated R (Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian.) for language throughout); Genre: Biography, Drama, Musical; Run time: 2 hrs., 34 min.; Distributed by Warner Bros.

Credit Readers Anonymous: "Jersey Boys" was partly filmed on location in Kearny, N.J. The actors sang live on set. Director Clint Eastwood out-cameos director Alfred Hitchcock when a scene from Eastwood's TV show, "Rawhide" (1959 - '65), is telecast in a "Jersey Boys" scene.

Box Office, June 27: Summer sequelitis continued with the year's biggest opening (surpassing "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," $95 million) for "Transformers: Age of Extinction," fourth in the blockbuster franchise, No. 1, with $100 million, one week, as "22 Jump Street" held at No. 2, with $15.4 million, $139.8 million, three weeks; "How To Train Your Dragon 2" remained at No. 3, with $13.1 million, $121.8 million, three weeks; and "Think Like A Man Too" dropped from No. 1 to No. 4, with $10.4 million, $48.1 million, two weeks; and "Maleficent" stayed at No. 5, with $8.2 million, $201.8 million, five weeks.

"Jersey Boys" dropped from No. 4 to No. 6, with $7.6 million, $27.3 million, two weeks; with the rest in the same order as the June 20 weekend: 7. "Edge Of Tomorrow," $5.2 million, $84.1 million, four weeks; 8. "The Fault In Our Stars," $4.8 million, $109.5 million, four weeks; 9. "X-Men: Days of Future Past," $3.3 million, $223.3 million, six weeks; and "Chef," summer 2014's indie sleeper hit so far still cooking for the sixth-straight week in the Top 10, this time No. 10, with $1.6 million, $19.4 million, eight weeks.

This column is dedicated to Eli Wallach (1915 - 2014).

Unreel, July 4:

"Tammy, " R, After she loses her job, Melissa McCarthy hits the road with her mom, played by Susan Sarandon. All heck breaks lose. Dan Aykroyd and Mark Duplas co-star in the comedy.

"Deliver Us From Evil," R. Eric Bana stars as a New York City police officer investigating a series of crimes, with the help of a priest. Edgar Ramirez co-stars in the horror-thriller.

"Earth To Echo," PG: A group of youths help an alien. Teo Halm, Reese Hartwig and Ella Wahlestedt star in the sci-fi adventure.

Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site,; the Times-News web site,; and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6 - 6:30 p.m. Mondays, WDIY 88.1 FM, and, where they're archived. Email Paul Willistein: pwillistein@ You can follow Paul Willistein on Twitter and friend Paul Willistein on facebook.