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IN SHORT: Great stuff. [Rated R for language throughout. 134 minutes]
We are going to describe a whole lot of the story of Jersey Boys because we know the demographics of the site. We know that y'all will be in your sits, silently singing along with all the hits mentioned below. Jersey Boys is so packed to the gills with the music that a lot of the basic story will flash by. Consider this a preemptory "un"-flash-by . . .
In Belleville, New Jersey, 1951, there were not a lot of options for teenaged boys on the verge of adulthood, or so we are told at the beginning of Jersey Boys, a story of the origins of a singing group called The Four Lovers and how (it) became better known as "Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons". The film is adapted from a wildly successful stage musical, ten years on Broadway with touring companies still going. We grew up with the Four Seasons, as their career exploded. We have a clear recollection of an appearance they made on The Soupy Sales Show, an afternoon kids program on WPIX-TV in New York. Sales introduced the group to us kiddie viewers as "Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter! Get it? The Four Seasons!" They, in turn, hit Soupy in the face with a whipped cream pie. Google it. If someone managed to save the bit, it's probably on YouTube by now.
Those who know hits like "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man" (all No. 1 hits in 1962-63) and "Rag Doll," "Bye Bye Baby," "Let's Hang On" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" will have to fight the urge to sing along with the film. Those too young to know the songs as anything other than the stuff their grandparents sing along to, get a pretty good story about a kid from the wrong side of the tracks whose lucky break turned out to be anything but. And vice versa. Go buy a ticket as we're about to write too much history.
The Jersey Boys are Francesco "Francis" Castelluccio, Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), and Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) . They sing on streetcorners and have other pursuits -- Tommy is in resale. He is adept at finding merchandise that happens to fall "off the back of a truck," As Jersey Boys begin Tommy and Nick are initiating a newly renamed "Frankie Valley" into the fine art of grand theft when things go horribly, comically wrong. These jokers pull some other stunts on the 16 year old Frankie, but he's got angels looking over his shoulder. Those include a solid pair of parents and the watchful eye of a local mobster called "Gyp" DeCarlo (Christopher Walken).
But what young Frankie Valli really wants to do is . . . Sing! Lest we forget, there is a girl who pops into this story to straighten "Frankie Valley" right up. Mary Delgado (Renée Marino) fixes the name -- to Valli -- fixes his clothing and general look and, if we've got the facts straight, becomes the first Mrs. Franki Valli. Tommy, the self-proclaimed leader of the motley gang of three sets in motion events that will, after the prison terms are done with, lead to the formation of a new quartet -- singing trios as a business model were dead by 1953 or so -- as a pin setter at the local bowling alley, named Joe Pesci (Joey Russo), connects the three to songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen).
As the narrator puts it: "Yes. That Joe Pesci."
Bob Gaudio has the only pro credit of the bunch, writing credit for the monster hit "Short Shorts." The boys need songs for a new demo reel but Gaudio asks for a place in and an equal share of the group -- DeVito had offered him a three week trial gig as a writer/ performer. Gaudio also retains control of his publishing and mechanical rights. You don't have to know what that means. The film makes it pretty clear that Gaudio knew enough about the business to make sure he (and by extension the partners that he trusted) didn't get ripped off by the fine print legalese in any contract.
Which is ironic, since the band will sign with producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle), whose contract legalese will condemn them to a year of singing back-up for other artists while waiting for a promised four song demo deal.
When that demo deal materializes, a song called "Sherry" pops out and a 1962 performance of the song on American Bandstand cements their fame. Lest you think that Jersey Boys is just another story about "nobodies who become somebodies," there are enough personal stories running in parallel to keep the film more than interesting. Valli's daughter Francine (Freya Tingley) gets a run. Bob Crewe exposes the Boys to New York's fabulous music business party scene. Tommy DeVito finances the band with money borrowed from, shall we say, less than legitimate sources. There are enough "fame, fortune and everythng that goes with it" moments to drive the film at a good pace.
Unfortunately, a performance on Ed Sullivan marks the beginning of the end of the original quartet as the loanshark financing Tommy DeVito's "management duties" for the band comes to collect on what is now a million dollar debt. The film flashes back two years to cover most of the history we've laid out. The legal stuff comes at you fast and furious. The Mob influence that has been hanging in the background rises up. The band comes undone in unexpected ways and it is all great fun, except for Valli, whose life will spin all out of control. We won't explain how, since we've covered enough of the business stuff. You get to discover the personal stuff, and each member gets his share, all on your own.
A problem for us is that, somewhere around the Ed Sullivan performance, the film becomes unstuck in time. Most of the flashback ends around 1964 . . . It may be a legal "can't use the trademark" thing or it may be that The Beatles' success had no impact on the Four Seasons, given the legal and financial mess we've just hinted at. We find it strange that a full decade seems to disappear during the Third Act. Events occur which may account for that "missing" decade and that, given the fodder that the entertainment media have made of a celebrities' personal life, we were surprised to see. We're just unsure. Missing entirely is the fact that Valli went deaf . . . and got better. That story would easily add another hour. Wait, there's one more.
Jersey Boys isn't just a Broadway hit made bigger. It is a movie. People who go to movies know Frankie Valli as the singer of the title track of one of the monster movies of all time called Grease. Once Jersey Boys moves from the rise and fall of the Four Seasons singing group into the rise of Frankie Valli, solo artist, his movie work should be addressed, even if just in a line in the script, in passing. IMHO, of course
That's three nit picks to anyone who didn't live through the time. We lived through the time, so it's not. Probably an extra line or two of dialog and this film would have been perfect.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Jersey Boys, he would have paid . . .
If you lived through the heyday of the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (solo or collectively) $8.50 . You will be singing along. We did.
Not out loud, of course.
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