Review by Gordon Justesen
Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Vincent Piazza, Christopher Walken
Director: Clint Eastwood
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 134 Minutes
Release Date: November 11, 2014
“Like that bunny on TV with the battery, it just keeps going and going and going. Chasing the music...trying to get home.”
Considering a great deal of his filmmaking work over the past decade has consisted of very dark and moody material, Jersey Boys arrives as something of a light-hearted departure for director Clint Eastwood. And anyone who knows the man very well was probably stunned when it was first announced he was going to be doing a film version of the Broadway stage sensation about the rags to riches success of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. Everyone knows Clint to be a jazz enthusiast, but The Four Seasons was one of the very few pop groups he caught wind of and admired ever since they came on the music seen, so we truly have a dedicated fan helming the production.
As far as music biopics go, it doesn’t really break any new ground, but Eastwood’s translation of the material and, especially, his handling of the musical numbers are what makes this such a superb enjoyment. It also helps to enjoy the movie tremendously if you happen to share the same sour feeling I have towards most of what passes for pop music today...but of course, none of today’s music could ever hold a candle to what was being made when The Four Seasons hit it big.
The story opens in Belleville, New Jersey, 1951, where we’re introduced a group of neighborhood kids (some of whom address the audience at key points) who would later become pop music royalty. Their back story could best be described as a lighter version of GoodFellas, which has an interesting connection to this story in that one of the gang, and the troublemaker of the bunch, happens to carry the name Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza). He, along with his brother and close friend Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), make up a small time band called The Variety Trio, and also serve as errand boys for local gangster Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken).
Another close friend of Tommy’s is Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young), who works at the local barbershop, but happens to have a powerhouse of a falsetto voice. Tommy even has him showcase it during performances at nightclubs. The only thing keeping them from getting a big break is Tommy’s constant run ins with the law.
As the years pass, the boys get a little more focused, attain a fourth member in the form of songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), and Frankie changes his last name to Valli, which is more usable. They are given a record contract, which at first has them set up as background singers until they can officially create a breakout song. Gaudio does just that with a little ditty called “Sherry”, and the rest is history.
The choice to cast actors from various productions of the original show instead of big named stars was a terrific one, I think. It could probably be done with a notable actor (as such has been done before with Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison, Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles and, most recently, Chadwick Boseman as James Brown), but by this casting method, you’re not so much distracted by the presence of a huge star, and are convinced you are close to watching the actual people of the time. And I’m willing to bet serious dollars that there isn’t another man alive who can match what John Lloyd Young has done in terms of sounding exactly like the real Frankie Valli. (It should be noted that, just like the recent film version of Les Miserables, all of the singing was recorded live for the movie.)
I’ve never seen the Broadway production, but I can say that based on my immense enjoyment of this movie, it is now at the top of my list of shows I want to experience before I die. I can’t remember the last movie to seriously get my toes tapping while watching it. Clint Eastwood has certainly made one of the most enjoyable film experiences of the year with Jersey Boys, which deserves to be experienced by all music lovers!
This Blu-ray release from Warner boasts a strong, tremendously detailed HD presentation. Eastwood and his frequent cinematographer Tom Stern deliver their signature panoramic look to, once again, great effect. The black levels are particularly strong, as are the overall colors, tones and textures. 1950‘s New Jersey definitely has a most authentic appearance, and the music numbers happen to look as tremendous as they sound! Speaking of which...
The DTS HD mix serves this musically fused production amazingly well. Right from the opening orchestral take on “Oh, What a Night”, this lossless audio mix balances out the remarkable music playback terrifically well with dialogue delivery and various surround sound elements. But, of course, it’s the musical numbers that take center stage here, and if you’re a die hard fan of The Four Seasons, you will be nothing less than floored by how their classic songs sound here!
Included on this Blu-ray release are three featurettes, starting with “From Broadway to the Big Screen”, which details the translation of the production from stage to screen. Then there’s “Too Good to Be True”, an interview with Donnie Kehr, who played Christopher Walken’s character in the stage version, and “Oh What a Night to Remember”, which looks at the putting together of the terrific end credit musical number.
This Combo Pack release also includes a DVD copy, as well as a downloadable Digital HD version.
There’s nothing quite like revisiting classic music, especially when it’s delivered to powerhouse effect as in Jersey Boys. As much as I appreciate his darker films of late, it was nice to see Clint Eastwood let loose with this joyous recreation of the career of one of the most dynamic pop groups of all time!