Monday, June 23, 2014
From the age of 14 to the age of 20, I worked at a small-town grocery store, in Poplarville, Mississippi. For those readers who are not from my neck of the woods, Poplarville is a community college town in which about 80% of the population is oddly made up of men and women above age 60. I could give you many more interesting facts about that quaint little town, but that sarcastic demographic number should be enough to keep you up to speed. You see... In a town made up of individuals who lived their prime in the 60s and 70s, a grocer must appeal to the appropriate musical taste, in hopes that these old farts continue to buy their goods. With that being said, it should come as no surprise that many a song that came through that store's old speaker system was sung by none other than Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, the "Jersey Boys" themselves. Thankfully, in my time working in Poplarville, I really grew to enjoy that classic sound. If I hadn't, I would have been in trouble, because it was not going anywhere. Not long ago, Jersey Boys was Off-Broadway, in New Orleans, and I really wanted to check out the play. Unfortunately, that didn't work out, which made for even more excitement when I heard that Clint Eastwood was bringing the story to theaters. As a disclaimer, I knew very little about Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons before heading into the theater. But, I was excited to watch their story unfold and even more excited to listen to some great tunes along the way...
With the success of Jersey Boys on Broadway, I knew the storyline would be fairly compelling and entertaining. Considering that these guys were musicians, they certainly had a lot of grit. However, the story is sold as a tale about a group of guys who grew up on the wrong side of the proverbial tracks, and I don't quite agree with that description. While one of the four members of the group (Tommy DeVito) was a rough character, the other three guys (Frankie Valli, Nick Massi, and Bob Gaudio) proved to be fairly good-natured or innocent. The moral make-up of the group was quite unexpected, but, in the end, it didn't take away very much from the plot. In fact, it made me feel more sympathy toward the characters, because of their rough upbringing. I even wanted to root for the morally compromised DeVito. In general, the story was simple and accented well by the light, peppy music throughout. The most glaring issue, in my opinion, was the humor, which was difficult to catch. At times, I was cracking up, and the folks sitting around me were dead silent. Other times, I would hear laughter around me, and I would be taking in what I thought was a serious moment. Maybe I was just watching the movie with stupid people... Either way, the audience's experience with each other is so important to the success of any film, and the awkward humor of Jersey Boys really lessened that experience.
I spent much of the "Plot" section talking about the characters, but, in a film that follows the lives of four musicians, the characters lives are the plot. The film had quite a plethora of characters, including a young Joe Pesci, played by Joseph Russo, who reminded me a lot of... an older Joe Pesci. Who knew he would show up? There's no way that I could cover each and every character, but here are a few worth noting...
Of the four members of the group, easily the weakest character was Nick Massi, played by Michael Lomenda. Not only was the character weak, but the performance was also lacking. Maybe someone who has seen the show in the theater could give a better analysis of Massi, but, in my opinion, he was quite a weak link.
Undoubtedly, the best performance was given by Vincent Piazza, who was quite convincing as Tommy DeVito, the likeable bad guy. Kudos to Piazza for shining in a film full of small, mediocre performances. Two other characters/performances that I really enjoyed were Christopher Walken's Gyp DeCarlo and Erich Bergen's Bob Gaudio. Walken was his normal, frightening self, and Bergen was probably the only one who really nailed his humorous lines, in my opinion.
Overall, Jersey Boys was quite enjoyable! The music was expectedly lovable, and the story, while not groundbreaking, was entertaining. I don't know if everyone will enjoy Vincent Piazza's bad-guy performance as much as I enjoyed it, but it's worth a shot. If you love the music of The Four Seasons or Jersey accents, Jersey Boys is just the film for you! Also, for those of you who are scared away by the word musical (I'm not much different), I wanted to note the fact that Jersey Boys is not a traditional musical. The music is never used to move the story along or serve as a substitute for dialogue. Instead, the songs are only sung in the setting of a concert or studio... Where music is meant to be sung! Finally, if you've never heard the music of The Four Seasons or Frankie Valli, go listen! Right now! I give Jersey Boys 3.23 out of 5 stars.