Jersey Boys is a movie about the Fall, Belleville, N.J.-style. Ever since Adam and Eve, we have found ways to trash the Garden, the Garden, in this case, being the musical gifts of four young men: Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi, and, especially, Bob Gaudio, and Frankie Valli. Together they rose from playing in bowling alleys to starring on the Ed Sullivan Show as Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. If you’ve ever listened to the radio, you’ve heard their hits, songs (all written by Gaudio) like “Sherry,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” For baby boomers, Valli’s piercing falsetto evokes the smell of suntan lotion (not sunscreen) and swimming pool chlorine. It recalls the feel of driving, fast, on a summer night with the windows of the car rolled down and the radio cranked up. The chance to hear the music and watch the performers in their slick suits with their practiced moves is reason enough to see this movie.
Jersey Boys manages somehow to be both entertaining and thoughtful, a hard mix to master.
But, remember, this a movie about the Fall, and director Clint Eastwood makes sure we never lose sight of the serpent. The boys come from a rough neighborhood, where doing time is a fairly routine coming-of-age rite. They know the police and the jails and they know the criminals who mange to skirt both. In Frankie’s case, he is beloved of mobster Angelo “Gyp” DeCarlo (Christopher Walken) who prizes the kid’s rendition of Gyp’s mother’s favorite song. He watches out for Frankie and keeps him out of jail and in the seedy clubs where he and his band mates hone their skills.
But it’s not until Tommy (Vincent Piazzo), Nick (Michael Lomenda) and Frankie (John Lloyd Young) meet up with Bob (Erich Bergen) that their stars begin to rise and shine. Bob is a gifted songwriter who takes his inspiration from everything he sees and hears — random sounds on a bus ride, a clip from on old movie — and he is responsible for their first smash hit, “Sherry.” The money begins to flow as the band starts touring. Pick, if you will, any, or all, of the Seven Deadly Sins and watch them played out on the big screen. Pride? Check. Greed? Check. Envy? Check. Anger? Check. Sloth? Check. Lust? Check, check, check. Gluttony? (See “Lust”)
It’s affecting to hear the light sounds of the Four Seasons used as a backdrop for the increasingly heavy burdens the singers bear as their relationships, both personal and business, collapse. Families fall apart and long friendships fray as they just keep smiling and singing. Until they day they all, save for Frankie, still soldiering on at age 80, stop.
Jersey Boys manages somehow to be both entertaining and thoughtful, a hard mix to master. But be warned that the street language is rough, and frequent. And the treatment of women, while not physically violent, is so consistently dismissive and demeaning as to be disturbing. Early in the movie Tommy instructs an innocent Frankie in the facts of life, namely that there two types of women, one easy to get into bed (A) and the other difficult to get into bed (B). Trust me, this will send women moviegoers everywhere searching for types C through Z, anything but Tommy’s A or B. – Melissa Musick