Saturday, June 21, 2014

Walk Like A Man, Sing Like A Girl

Reel To Reel: Jersey Boys

Going Rate: Worth matinee price
Starring: John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Christopher Walken
Rated: R
Red Flags: Some mild sexuality, tough-guy Jersey language

"Tight underwear," my Queen Mother replied long ago, when we were sitting in the car as a young family and wondering how Frankie Valli could hit all those high falsetto notes. Jersey Boys doesn't offer us any secrets beyond hints of practice and exercise. Maybe it should've, especially in the first half hour, where this story of The Four Seasons needs a kick start.

It's clear this is not going to be the Broadway smash that is now on tour (and playing in Tucson as I write this) from the opening credits. Put this in the hands of Bill Condon, who directed Dreamgirls and Chicago, and he would've gotten things moving from frame one. Director Clint Eastwood prefers to play this as a dark drama with musical interludes rather than a musical. We see young Frankie (Young, from the original musical cast) hanging around his aspiring-wiseguy pal Tommy (Piazza) in the 1950's as they pal with a Jersey mob boss (Walken) and dabble in crime between gigs with Tommy's band. With Tommy's into-the-camera narration, the movie nearly turns into something resembling GoodFellas: The Musical, and a very slow one at that.

Tommy's group changes lineups and names, but it can't get beyond playing clubs until their friend Joe Pesci (yes, that Joe Pesci, played by Joey Russo) introduces them to promising keyboard player and songwriter Bob Gaudio (Bergen). He has the songs Frankie wants, but his terms make him a reluctant hire for Tommy and his I-take-care-of-everythin' style. Bob and Frankie land a recording deal with flamboyant producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle), but only as backup singers until the band comes up with three songs -- "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," and "Walk Like A Man" -- that propel them to the top of the charts, anchored by Valli's trademark falsetto. Success would be sweet if it wasn't for Tommy's management practices, where money comes in and out, but only Tommy knows how or where. Eventually a loan shark comes looking for Tommy, leaving the possibility the Four Seasons could end up singing with the fishes.

This version of Jersey Boys might've worked better as a dark-tinged straight rockudrama in the mode of What's Love Got To Do With It without the breaking of the fourth wall borrowed from the stage production. Only at the end do we get a hint of the energy that could've lifted this film. Ultimately, what makes this film worth a look is John Lloyd Young's vocals and all those Four Seasons' hits.

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