Though I was born and raised in NYC, I am a Jersey Girl, having spent almost half of my life in the “Garden State.” Clint Eastwood’s new film, JERSEY BOYS closely follows the stage play of the same name, including the device of having lead characters face the camera uttering asides to the audience to move the plot along with personal observations revealing some unsaid impressions. Unfortunately the movie is filled with the cliches that foster the stereotypes of a strong NJ Mafia/mob-controlled existence; a large Italian populace speaking with strong Joisey accents, girlfriends treated like chattel - mothers like worshipful angels; teenagers pulling off minor felonies, rotating in and out of jail as if it were a cakewalk none the worse for their “time” in prison.
In the midst of this milieu which is filmed with a real nostalgic 1950’s feel - we meet a “saintly” young man from Newark, NJ, Frankie Valli (born Francesco Stephen Castelluccio) whose voice charms all those who know him, bringing out their protective instincts to “save” this young man from the recklessness of the city’s “evil streets”, in order to preserve his vocal chords for posterity. The law enforcement community is complicit in being prescient ( though not judicious) in allowing potential talent to trump criminal mischief. John Lloyd Young does an adequate job as Frankie Valli, but I was not drawn to this actor who lacked charisma, OR his wondrous voice with its high falsetto screech which began to feel mannered and much too predictable.
JERSEY BOYS deals with the personal interactions of 4 young men who group together, eventually becoming The Four Seasons to “make it” in the music business and by the looks of it - their rise to success came pretty smoothly, so any drama in this biopic is ancillary to familiar songs and performances that are the movie’s highlights. Yes there is the humdrum boredom of traveling to gigs and back, sacrificing one’s family in the process of building a career to ultimately achieve fame and fortune as well as the unmitigated bully - the founder of the group Tommy DeVito - a roguish Vincent Piazza - who is the “satan” to the celestial young Valli - being both his benefactor and his tormentor.
Eastwood cast many unknown actors - none of which stood out for me, except for an easy-going natural performance by Christopher Walken; his demeanor on the screen had presence - lots of it - and I looked forward to watching an old pro use barely perceptible facial reflexes, and the flourish of a hand to convey a wide range of attitudes. To appear in a scene with Walken lamentably made the other actors look like pallid amateurs - like placing a Leonardo Da Vinci next to a Thomas Kincade painting.
JERSEY BOYS is basically about time - time gone by - a visual clue being a short clip of the virile Clint Eastwood in a scene from a much earlier western playing on the boxy TV in a hotel room. Eastwood can be a great director (Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, Gran Torino etc.) and has worked with period pieces in the past, but they were infused with a beautiful insight into the darkness and lightness of being. This musical, on the other hand is slight, and weightless, BUT still worthwhile, bringing to an audience - particularly whose who lived in the 1960’s and ’70’s - joy and entertainment through a sentimental journey evoking memories that have floated deep into the past. Like a Proust madeleine - the songs Sherry, Can't Take My Eyes Off You, Walk Like A Man, Big Girls Don't Cry transported me to my youth dancing cheek to cheek with my first love the tall and handsome Richie, when the world was full of possibilities and everything was imaginable and credible.
(Note: Frankie Valli is one of the Executive Producers of the movie.)