What: Jersey Boys
When: 20th June 2014
Where: Cineworld, Hammersmith, London
I’ve been a big fan of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons since the 1970s. I live in London. The musical of “Jersey Boys” opened in the West End of London in 2008. It has never occurred to me to go and see the musical. But here I was on the opening day of the “Jersey Boys” film release with my large bag of popcorn (and I mean large!) waiting for the film to start. Life is full of curious choices.
This was partly driven by a childhood where I was surrounded by musical productions of one kind and another and never really liked any of them. It was also partly driven by a real dislike of the artistic laziness of the kind of show which began with “Mamma Mia” and “We Will Rock You” (has anything good really come of the supposed creativity of Ben Elton?) and the whole jukebox musical genre in particular.
But mostly it was led by troubling whispers by some of my friends who are also Four Seasons fans who muttered things about historical inaccuracies in the timeline and plot of the musical which bothered me intensely. If you know me personally, you know better than to ask about the musical careers of any of the hundreds of artists I appreciate because I can answer all your questions (or bore the pants off you, depending on your opinion) in a little too much detail. I am a not-so-closet music historian and I don’t really care who knows.
So there was more than a little trepidation involved in my viewing this film which is based on “the stage musical, Jersey Boys” according to the credits, far more than it is based on the exact detail of the careers of Bob Gaudio, Frankie Valli, Nick Massi, Tommy Devito, Joe Long and the rest. In fact, it excises Gerry Polci, Lee Shapiro, John Paiva, Don Ciccone, Larry Lingle, Robby and Rex Robinson and a great number of other musicians from the story all together. This is a story of the Four Seasons where there is no “Genuine Imitation Life Gazette”, “Helicon” or “Streetfighter”. And much that there is, is rearranged to make a coherent just-over-two-hours movie.
So is it, despite all this, worth an evening out at the cinema or a DVD purchase? Yes, most definitely.
So what’s good? Well, the main theme of the film is not the music (although there is plenty of that) but the choices that musicians and artists make to further their careers commercially and otherwise. Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) accepts an offer of help from mob boss, Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken).
Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) accepts a loan from Norm Waxman (Donnie Kehr), a mobbed up loan shark, without considering the vig. Frankie Valli spends a lifetime on tour without giving sufficient thought to his wife, Mary and particularly their daughter, Francine (Elizabeth Hunter and others). Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) quits the band, leaving Valli with a mess on his hands.
Choices and choices aplenty and everyone takes a good plot in a surprise direction. Not always the exactly-accurate-and true direction but an interesting one. Ably directed by Mr Clint Eastwood, this makes for a good film whether you are a fan of the band or not.
And let’s face it that has been one of the good things about the musical – it seems that most people didn’t realise they were fans of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons until they heard all those songs in one place.
And that is the other great thing about this: the songs. Many of the great songs are here and, best of all, nobody suddenly breaks into the songs whilst they’re walking down the street or out on a date. Most of all of them are restricted to being used in the Seasons’ TV and stage performances which make up quite a substantial part of the plot. In these performances the Seasons do seem to be in a perpetual 1962 timewarp (except for Bob Gaudio’s goatee) but we’ll let them off for that. If this was a film about the Beatles, it would be necessary to show the visual transitions between 1962 and 1968 but it seems not so for the Four Seasons.
Also some of the hits from the 1970s are dragged kicking and screaming back into the 1960s whether they want to go there or not but don’t get me started on the historical inaccuracies. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.
After the show, I took my wife to our local Chinese restaurant and laboured over those details at great length and I’m perfectly calm now. And I have only nice things to say about the film.