Jersey Boys”
I didn’t think anybody could sing like Frankie Valli. I was wrong. Wow, John Lloyd Young has an incredible voice. And it’s used to perfection in “Jersey Boys,” the tribute to Frankie Valli and his Four Seasons singing group, first on Broadway, and now, with Clint Eastwood’s direction, to movie theaters. If you’re a Baby Boomer whose teenage years included the Four Seasons hits, then seeing this one will be like a walk down memory lane. But anyone in any era can appreciate the simple musicality of this kind of music: just a few basic chords, with a bass, guitar, keyboard, drums, some backup singing, and a lead singer that has to be heard to be believed.
OK, now for the critique: John Lloyd Young is 39 years old, and it’s ridiculous to try to pass him off as 16. But that’s where they begin, focusing on how the boys in the band were actually a group of small-time thugs and punks in New Jersey . They got their kicks from breaking and entering, stealing, selling stolen goods on the black market, and flirting with Mob protection, hardly realizing that there’s a heavy price to pay for their involvement.
But on the side, they’d formed a little band, doing some cover songs in local clubs. They were good enough to get some gigs, but nobody really took notice of them, until Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) showed up. Now they have a songwriter who would propel their unique sound, and when a record producer, Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle), finally showed some interest in recording them, they were golden.
But of course, the path to musical success is strewn with many temptations: not only the hotel-room parties with willing wanna-be starlets, but sudden access to money, which, in some, produces an insatiable greed for even more lavish lifestyle. These guys weren’t exactly choir boys to begin with, and their propulsion to pop music icons didn’t make them suddenly grow a conscience, either. In the end, they imploded from their own excesses, at least according to the story. But that perspective may be a little too self-centered. The pop music scene in America was considerably different in the mid-70’s than it was in the late 50’s and early 60’s. These guys were never a rock n’ roll band, and they didn’t adapt, either. But that persistent embrace of their own particular style garnered for them a unique place in pop music culture: nobody sounds quite like them.
The movie starts out with a chronological narrative, but it inexplicably jumps around in the middle, adding unnecessary confusion about time sequence. There are very frequent pauses in the action for different characters to talk directly to the camera, which of course jeopardizes the “suspension of disbelief” so important to moviegoing. None of the characters are particularly lovable, which makes it more difficult to root for them to succeed as persons, apart from their marketability. There are some heartbreaking elements, like the “oh-by-the-way” accounts of cuckolded spouses and neglected children. And there is absolutely no attempt to show any of the characters aging, other than at the very end, when they all have grey hair and appear together onstage after many years living separate lives---but somehow still sound incredible together, without even practicing first (yes, this can happen, but it’s very unlikely: the few exceptions prove the rule). And the language might be realistically street-tough, but it will off-put the genteel viewers.
Despite the flaws, “Jersey Boys” will appeal to many of us “at a certain age,” because it plays the soundtrack of an era that we all hold fondly in our memories.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas