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Rated 3.03 stars
by 319 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Chasing the Music
by Diana Saenger

Everyone has a story, but finding one that not only reveals truths but totally entertains at the same time is hard to come by. Yet that’s exactly what Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman did – twice. They wrote the book of Jersey Boys, which won the 2006 Tony Award, 2007 Grammy Award, and 2009 Olivier Award for Best Musical. They also wrote the screenplay of the bio-pic Jersey Boys, hitting theaters June 20.

In the 1960s four young boys in New Jersey are stumbling to make their way in life which includes some run-ins with the law. Tommy De Vito (Vincent Piazza) is a sassy guy who creates a band to play at nightclubs. He’s joined by Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda). When Tommy realizes that three-member pop groups are out, he considers coaching his young friend Frankie (John Lloyd Young), who has a very unusual high voice, to join the group.

Changing Frankie’s last name from Castelluccio to Valli, the quartet is now well received, and the guys easily find jobs. The only problem involves the trouble they keep getting into. Frankie ends up doing six-month round-robin stays in the local jail. He cuts hair by day and sings by night. Band members always have their eyes on the girls in the room digging their songs. For a few it’s nothing permanent, but when Frankie lays eyes on Francine (Freya Tingley), he’s bewitched by her advances and sexual maturity. Eventually they get married.

Keeping his eye on the group, mostly Frankie, is Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken), a local mob boss. From the time he gets nipped by Frankie with a razor at the barbershop during Frankie’s first shave, Gyp encourages Frankie to keep being a good kid.

The bands popularity grows even more after taking on Bob Gaudio, who begins to write songs for the group and has a nice voice as well. Finally, realizing the need to cut records, they approach Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle), a record producer who takes them on and initiates some new ideas including doubling Frankie’s voice on the sound system.

Now getting some major gigs, Crewe insists they drop their latest name for the band and get something that clicks. Confused and standing outside a bowling alley where Tommy has urged a pin-setter to do something illegal, the bowling alley sign sizzles to life as bulbs light up Four Seasons Bowling Alley. And – you guessed it -- The Four Seasons is the name they adopt to take them through the gate of success.

Now making the top of the charts time and time again, the group has only one way to go from there and the Seasons are soon on their way down. This is mostly due to Tommy, manager of the band, who has been  pilfering large sums of money from their account. It seems that Tommy has been taking money from a mob boss. He owes the mob $150,000 and is about to deal with their typical wrath.

Having seen the play, and the movie twice, I understand why this story receives raves from all who see it. The entire film production is non-stop engaging, thanks to the writers who master every peak and valley of the men’s real-life stories.

“The juxtaposition of their music and their lives was remarkable,” Rick Elice said. “The songs are these great, upbeat pop classics, but the guys behind them were from a tough neighborhood where the bond they forged is like iron. They are not related by blood, but they are as close as family and sometimes just as dysfunctional. We wanted the script to be the strongest possible telling of that story, with the music of The Four Seasons serving as landmarks along the journey.”

Clint Eastwood, a music aficionado, has produced music-based documentaries and written the score for seven of his films, so bringing him on to direct makes sense. His key decisions such as casting the actors who played the roles in the play and at times allowing them to break the proverbial “fourth wall” – talking right to the camera and the audience giving their own POV on what’s happening – plus his distinctive eye on the story and development have helped create a film that has movie-goers tapping their toes and humming the tunes throughout the film. Even Eastwood was enamored by the songs.

 “There are so many wonderful songs: “Sherry,” “Rag Doll,” “My Eyes Adored You,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”… And each was distinctly different, even though they all had the imprint of The Four Seasons on them,” Eastwood said. “Every day of filming, there would be a new favorite. They’d sing “Dawn” and we couldn’t stop humming that. Then we’d go back and film another scene with “Rag Doll,” and it would take over and we’d be humming that. It was great fun.”

This ensemble cast does an amazing job portraying these characters.  Young appears heartfelt in every scene whether happy-go-lucky or during the difficult times in his personal life or with the band, and we can feel his pain and joys.

“Even though I’d played Frankie so many times on stage, this experience felt fresh and new, Young said. “I think that speaks to the timelessness of the story and, of course, the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. The songs are part of the tapestry of that era, but the lyrics are still relatable to everyone today and the melodies are so infectious,”

Walken owns any role he takes on, and Gyp is no exception.  He chastises the guys, manipulates shysters and paves the way for the band’s success with the ease of drinking a cup of tea. It’s so fun to watch his magic.

Bergen, Piazza and Lomenda also create strong characters who rise and fall throughout their journey, as does Renée Marino as Frankie’s first wife, Mary Delgado. She played the part on Broadway and on the national tour.

There’s a lot of clever humor in the film as well as profanity, which is part of the real world at the time this story happened. Every component of the film seems superbly thought-out and entertaining or engaging (like the musical not-to-miss show-biz dance scene at the end).

Both times upon leaving the two screenings I attended, I heard over and over, “I loved it and want to see it again.” The spark of recollection I saw in many eyes as they beamed delight speaks to the magnetism of Jersey Boys.

(Released by Warner Bros. Pictures and rated “R” for language throughout.)

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