Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Movie Review - "Jersey Boys"

We took a break from action and superhero movies to see the musical "Jersey Boys".

As I'm sure you know the movie, based on a 10-year-old stage show, is about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. I'm old enough to remember when most of their big hits were new, back in the early 1960's. Along with the Beatles and the Beach Boys, they were one of the biggest bands of the time.

The movie has, broadly, two themes, the music and the price they pay for their success. For the most part, the music is great. The guys playing the band were the original cast of the play. In the beginning they all look a little old for the part but not disturbingly so. We first meet Frankie as a 16-year-old in 1951. I'd have guessed he was 30.  We hear the music in a variety of ways: rehearsing, recording, playing before a live audience, or playing on television. Pretty much all the big hits I remember are there. I understand there was much more music in the stage show, but director Eastwood, decided to focus more on the backstage aspects of their story.

It's hard to know how much of the back story is true (Wikipedia wasn't much help). According to the film, the boys in their early days were basically mobsters and beholden to mob interests for many years. One of the band members racked up an enormous debt to the mob which Frankie eventually paid down. Frankie's wife was an alcoholic and the marriage broke up with three daughters. His oldest daughter, on the verge of making some demo records, died, apparently of a drug overdose. All this was a dark counterpoint to the music, which, somehow, continued on.

The story is moved along by narratives by different band members, directly to the audience. This sometimes worked pretty well, like in the opening, band member Tommy, while walking down the street, starts talking to the camera over his shoulder. Other times, like when a band member, during a performance, steps out of character to address the camera, didn't work as well.

It was hard to get a sense of time passing in the movie. In the opening we're told it's 1951 by a screen caption. A little later, one band member, in an aside to the camera says it's 1961. The next time we hear a date is when the band is getting inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.  According to Wikipedia, the band's (and/or Valli's as a solo act) popularity as a recoding act dropped pretty quickly in the late 1960's. As a performing act, the band or Valli as a solo remain popular to this day. My wife and I saw them perform around 1990 to an enthusiastic crowd in Atlantic City, some 15 years after their last real hit. The movie doesn't really put into context how big they were or how far they fell.

We liked the movie, although I think I'd have preferred it to be a bit more upbeat.  Be warned that the movie has a well deserved R rating for language, it you're thinking of taking your 10-year-old. There are more f**ks in this movie than anything we've seen in years.

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