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June 19, 2014

Movie review: 'Jersey Boys' hits a very high note

Oh what a film adaptation! In the reverent hands of Clint Eastwood, Broadway's smash hit "Jersey Boys" -- still going strong 10 seasons now -- is a meticulous recreation of The Four Seasons' sound, story and era.

What made the Tony-winning musical such a crowd-pleaser is captured cinematically as best the medium can. Of course, we don't get that pop that live theater delivers -- the goosebumps when they sing "Sherry" for the first time or the triumphant comeback for Frankie Valli with "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," or the electricity of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame finale "Who Loves You." But it's pretty darn close.

With Tony-winning book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice on board, the wit and humor come through, using the fourth wall and "Rashomon" device that connected with the live audiences.

Brickman, who co-wrote Woody Allen's "Annie Hall," "Manhattan" and others, and Elice, faithfully tell the lads from Belleville, New Jersey's compelling rise and fall in the music business.


John Lloyd Young superbly reprises his career-defining role as lead singer Frankie Valli, whose angelic falsetto was the group's meal ticket. Valli's turbulent family life is played out as well, underscoring the band's stumbling blocks.

In his Broadway debut, Young won the Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Theatre World awards in 2006 -- a record feat still unmatched. He shows why he is the definitive Frankie Valli, anchoring the film.

With the exception of Christopher Walken, who is terrific as mob boss Gyp DeCarlo, Eastwood eschewed using movie stars in favor of mostly the show's stage actors, and the casting is spot-on.

Vincent Piazza ("Boardwalk Empire") is a strong Tommy DeVito, the swaggering troublemaker who must get credit as the mover and shaker in the early days.

Erich Bergen, hand-picked by executive producer Bob Gaudio to play him, excels as the astonishing songwriter with youthful bravado, whose enduring partnership with Valli is pretty amazing. They both are executive producers of the movie.

Michael Lomenda lends an earthy gravitas to Nick Massi, fellow delinquent responsible for their vocal sound, who earns respect with his final monologue, as well as a couple heartfelt tirades.

What Works

The true story is fascinating -- a classic American rags-to-riches tale that anyone can identify with, yet those of a certain age will respond to the astute details of their early music career.

It was a time when bands climbed the charts through radio play and by appearances on "American Bandstand" and "The Ed Sullivan Show."

Eastwood knew exactly what to focus on, capturing the era perfectly. The look is terrific, with the cinematography lovingly accentuated the period.

He concentrates on the soaring harmonies and catchy pop hooks that made the quartet a '60s sensation as much as their code of honor.

The movie emotionally resonates, providing a jolt of heart along with its genuine soul.

Make sure to stay for the dynamic "curtain call," as is the custom for musicals these days. Former Broadway hoofer Christopher Walken even steps out at age 71.

The movie serves as both a wistful Wayback Machine and introducing their distinctive music to a new generation.

What Doesn't Work

To some, the Italian-American honor code may be cliche, reminiscent of dozens of gangster pictures, but for those who live it, the brotherhood and its allegiances are a very real deal.

And for viewers with short attention spans, this movie is not rushed -- it is to be savored, and so it takes its time revealing the particulars.

This is not a hyperkinetic music video at all.

4 stars out of 4

Director: Clint Eastwood

Starring: John Lloyd Young, Christopher Walken, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Mike Doyle

Length: 2:14

Rated: R for language throughout

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