Who loves ya, pretty mammas' boys?

The original Four Seasons

If you were a fan of the Four Seasons (above), and tapped along to Jersey Boys, the stage show based on their story, then this latest film from the veteran, Academy Award-winning director Clint Eastwood is a 'must-see.'

This is the film version of the phenomenally popular stage musical, Jersey Boys,  which was a hit world-wide, and has recently toured Australia.

The film tells the story of four young men from 'the wrong side of the tracks' in New Jersey who came together to form the The Four Seasons, the famous rock group of the 1960s. The members of the group were Frankie Valii (John Lloyd Young), Tommy Devito (Vincent Piazza), Nickie Massi (Michael Lomenda), and Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen).

The group's sound is spectacular. When they make their sound, 'everything drops away.' Only one of the four (Vincent Piazza) has never taken his role on the theatre stage.

It is an unusual movie for its director, Clint Eastwood, to make. Eastwood, who is no stranger to jazz, is nevertheless best known for very different kind of movies such as the raw-edged: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Dirty Harry (1971), and Unforgiven (1992).

The focus in this movie is on the drama behind the formation, the staying together, and the eventual split-up of the members of the group. It is not on their songs, though the music of the group is always there, threaded throughout the film, and especially delighting us with the incredible falsetto voice of charismatic John Lloyd Young who plays Frankie Valli. Frankie became the frontman for the group, and the movie makes it clear why his falsetto cemented the group's fame.

The Four Seasons became an icon for their generation, in defiance of their past. They learned the rules of existence on the streets where mobsters had influence, and the mafia held sway.

Three of them ended up with police records. The roughness of their past, however, helped them to face the stresses of their fame.

These are the aspects that Eastwood accentuates. When he does, the film becomes less a musical than a film which explores dramatically the complicated and trouble-prone life of the people behind the music.

The Mob connection gives the movie its sharpest edge, and is illustrated very well by Christopher Walken in the cameo role of Gyp DeCarlo, a mobster who weeps when he hears Valli sing, but knows when a financial loan is due and must be paid.
The film starts with dark events and ends up in a grand finale with the whole cast joyously singing and dancing together.

Eastwood exposes us throughout to the group's hard times. There are debts to be paid, attempted robbery, agreements dishonoured, tax evasion, lost loyalties, domestic drama, threatening Mob connections, and fractured relationships. They all feature in the telling of The Four Season story.

In the movie, there is obvious tension in the gap between awareness of the group's misfortunes, and the pull of the movie to lead you to think that with the group's incredible talent, all will be well. It is to the credit of Eastwood that he depicts the dark side of the group, while the magic of the group's music exists alongside it, but the tension associated with that gap is always there.

The film uses a very interesting device, which has been used in stage versions, of having all four members at some time narrate their own version of their story.

But the magic of the group rests indisputably in the joy and rhythm of its music which are captured superbly in iconic songs such as Sherry, Cant Take My Eyes Off You, Walk Like a Man, and Big Girls Don't Cry. Moments of genuine excitement are present in the film, but the impact of the group's singing comes to be submerged in the drama of the story that pulls the viewer back.

The sombre dramatic focus is not what supplies the real excitement of the The Jersey Boys. It rests in the music. However, the story of the band's survival is effective enough to raise some intriguing questions. Why did The Four Seasons have so much to do with mobsters and criminal activity, when they developed an appeal that was so clean?

This is a movie that will greatly entertain anyone who lived through the group's rise during the 60s. Laying the film's dramatic concerns aside, which Eastwood never lets go, it is very difficult not to give oneself over to the fabulous singing and rhythm of Jersey Boys. When The Four Seasons fill the screen with their voices in full force, their singing and the songs they sing are thrilling.

- Reviewed by Peter W. Sheehan, an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Jersey Boys, starring: John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Michael Lomenda, Erich Bergen, and Christopher Walken. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Rated M (Frequent coarse language). 134 min. Roadshow Films. Showing now.

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