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Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys has
enjoyed enormous popularity on stage around the world, largely because the hit
songs made famous by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons are so utterly enjoyable.
The screen adaptation, by playwrights Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, is somewhat
darker in tone than the show, but retains the key ingredients that have made it
so successful: a rags-to-riches tale with glimpses behind the scenes of the
music business. I never thought this was the stuff of great drama, but I like a
good show-biz underdog story as much as anyone, and I do love those songs. The
result is pretty well irresistible.

As director, Clint Eastwood doesn’t impose himself on the
material; he lets it stand on its own two feet, aided and abetted by production
designer James J. Murakami and cinematographer Tom Stern. The evocation of
working-class New Jersey in the 1950s may be a bit rose-colored, but it seems
to suit the picture.

John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony Award for his portrayal of
Frankie Valli, reprises the role with complete conviction and credibility. Rooting
interest is essential and he wins us over in the opening scenes, addressing the
camera along with his costars. The other members of the Four Seasons have
worked in various incarnations of the play, and slip into their roles with
ease: Vincent DiPiazza, Erich Bergen, and Michael Lomenda.      

It’s a special treat to watch Christopher Walken in the role
of a local mob boss who takes a fatherly interest in Frankie, which comes in
handy more than once. He adds a note of effortless grace to the film and never steps
over the line into caricature.

the strains of “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like a Man” don’t do
anything for you, you may not have the built-in affection for Jersey Boys as baby boomers like me…but
there’s a decent chance this likable film will win you over.

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I must confess that I'm rather taken aback by this review. Usually when Mr. Maltin bucks the trend, it's going against a film that otherwise receives unqualified praise. In this instance, his calling a film receiving lukewarm-t0-hostile reviews "irresistible" is quite surprising. But a contrarian position should not dismissed out of hand. Rather, it's the basis for taking such a viewpoint.

In the case of a film that makes some serious factual mistakes (songs being performed in years before they were released) and even has a couple of cringeworthy moments (the "My Eyes Adored You" scene), it seems odd that reminiscence would figure so much in leading to a positive review. I would think those kinds of chronological errors would raise eyebrows among those old enough to remember that music and that era. In addition, this film's talky narrative is something you'll either run with or it will poke you in the eye. I didn't care for it myself and maybe even Clint Eastwood himself wasn't comfortable with it. But the biggest indictment is that the central character (in this case, Frankie Valli) remains an enigma at the end- a criticism that Mr. Maltin has not hesitated to level at other films.

The power of nostalgia is hard to deny when it takes hold. More to the point, the music of a bygone era can play a big role in making people more amenable to a film that otherwise would not pass muster.

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