The Film Gang

Jersey Boys

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Listen to the review by David H. Anthony above, and read it below.

 

Jersey Boys, A Film By Clint Eastwood.

If it’s challenging to try to bring a hit musical to the screen, it can be no less vexing to evaluate such an adaptation. Broadway smash hit Jersey Boys, based on a book co-authored by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and reconfigured as a Clint Eastwood film, has already made a big splash, as far as publicity goes. It needs no further hype or buzz. John Lloyd Young, who created a memorable stage version of real-life elfin doo-wop falsetto icon Frankie Valli, reprises his role for this motion picture.

Jersey Boys is one version of the story of the rise of the transitional popular musical group, The Four Seasons, from working class Italian-American origins in New Jersey to local, then regional and national stars, told from the point of view of lead singer Valli and collaborator, pianist-composer, Bob Gaudio. The trail leads through record industry halls and studios in ways familiar to recent pop music biopic enthusiasts.

I found the experience of watching Jersey Boys a bit of a mixed bag. As a transplanted New York born sixtysomething, for good or for ill I still retain distinct recollections of the Four Seasons and Frankie Valli. Yet it was not simply a trip down memory lane or a return to a simpler time, as it could have been for someone approaching this from the point of view of nostalgia. My father was a “Jersey Boy” of a different type. African-American, he grew up on the black edge of an Italo-American Jersey City neighborhood. He had a boyhood friend of Italian, in fact, Sicilian descent; the two not only became fast friends, they regularly visited and were hosted at one another’s homes. I never asked how either of them dealt with race but recall his mention of being chased by white ethnics in a highly charged racial climate. Its emphasis on Italian-American ethnicity both adds interest to and oddly displaces the Jersey Boy narrative, as it all but airbrushed the role race played and still plays in the recording industry, even when it inevitably arises. Initially, we are informed, this white combo’s signature sound was mistaken for black, a mark of imitative prowess.

An early incarnation of the group, represented by Valli and an ally, knock on record company doors as a follow up to having sent out demo recordings, only to see them slam in their faces. In one telling vignette a nameless record mogul contemptuously spits, “Come back when you’re Colored.” Yet, for the most part, an absence of black folk other than stick figures is striking, in view of their undeniable power as artistic models for Valli. We see and hear this portrayed but it is glossed over in curious and mystifying ways. What may have afforded an opportunity to say something rare and edifying on race, color and culture retreats to seek refuge in Goodfellas iconography.

The performances and musical references render Jersey Boys enjoyable. Young is a convincing Valli delineator, even though a fan would never mistake the two. Gyp de Carlo, as played by the inimitable Christopher Walken is a mélange of menace and melancholy. Eastwood takes us back into places and times that warm human hearts.
Read carefully, Jersey Boys can provide insights into America of the fifties, sixties, seventies and beyond, but requires far more than what is selectively projected here.

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