Film and TV

Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
Jersey Boys

Title: Jersey Boys

Wow, Haven't Heard From Them In A While. How's Old Sizzlechest Doing? You're thinking of the "Jerky Boys," idiot who is a product of my subconscious.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Two shine boxes out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Four Garden Staters make good, except for those times they don't.

Tagline: "Everybody remembers it how they need to."

Better Tagline: "Mamma mia! That's a spicy mélange of Italian stereotypes!"

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Jersey Boys chronicles the career of the Four Seasons (previously known as the Four Lovers, the Variatones, the Travelers, the Romans, and possibly the Dayglo Abortions) and the band's struggles with fame, family, and ill-advised mob loans. The action naturally centers on lead singer Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) and his volatile relationship with guitarist/best friend/poor decision maker Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza). It's based on the Broadway musical, meaning it's long on boffo musical numbers and short on meaningful characterization.

"Critical" Analysis: Directed by Clint Eastwood and based on the Marshall Brickman/Rick Elice musical, Jersey Boys is something of a conundrum. It really should have been released during the holidays, when families (especially those with sizable elderly contingents) could gather round for a good 2+ hours of nostalgia, music, and old-fashioned Italian family values. It feels a bit out of place in a summer that's already brought us kaiju, mutant time travel, and Neil Patrick Harris' hat befouling.

It's also the only movie I can immediately recall that's earned an "R" rating for nothing but harsh language. There's no nudity, no drugs (aside from an offscreen overdose), and no violence minus a punch or two and an angrily broken chair. Recall that Edge of Tomorrow, which showcases Tom Cruise's character getting shot "execution style" at least two dozen times, sports a "PG-13."

And I'd probably lament this apparent injustice if Jersey Boys was really worth your time. On one hand, I suppose it is, if you you're that big a fan of the Frankie Valli (né Francis Castelluccio), the 1960s, or depictions of Italians which border on parody.

Eastwood and company hit the necessary marks: ties to crime (including Christopher Walken as Frankie and Tommy's benevolent Mafioso patron), family tensions (Valli and wife Mary eventually divorce), overnight success, and inevitable financial decline. Unfortunately, and possibly because it sticks so closely to the play's structure, we never get a real feel for individual characters.

Valli, for example, comes to us 16 years old but still fully formed (more so than you realize, considering Young is 38). He gives good glare, especially when Tommy's financial troubles are divulged, but doesn't appear capable of much beyond resignation. As for Piazza, if his goal was to have me wishing Tommy would get his teeth kicked in every time he was on screen, mission accomplished.

That he resembles the vampire cop offspring of Robert Pattinson and Adrian Zmed doesn't help.

Biopics, even those playing loose with a few facts, shouldn't necessarily be boring, but neither should they rely so much on an audience's nostalgia and fondness for a certain era's music that they end up virtually bloodless. Aside from a few lines that will go into Walken's eventual memorial YouTube reel, the only person who generates any passion is Piazza, and he goes so far with it you'll be hearing "Fuggedaboutit" in your sleep for days.

I did learn one thing, "December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night)" was about the time lyricist Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) lost his virginity. So there's that.

Jersey Boys is in theaters today. When was the last time you took Grandma to the movies? Well, that's too long.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar