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The music of a time and place

"Jersey Boys" 

The music of a time and place

Although he's ridden the dusty trails of many Westerns and nailed scores of criminals in San Francisco and other cities, Clint Eastwood constantly expands his cinematic vision. He seems a most unlikely director for the adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, "Jersey Boys," for example, but some of his films exhibit not only his versatility but his ability to handle the play's particular subject and context. His own interest in music — he plays and composes music for some of his films — and his convincing pictures of working-class ethnics in "Mystic River" and "Gran Torino" provide a natural basis for the new picture.

A docudrama about the career of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, the movie follows the familiar trajectory of its form, showing the early struggles, the great success, and then the ultimate unraveling of the group. Although it naturally focuses most of its attention on Valli's life and work, it also examines, sometimes comically, the behaviors and beliefs of young Italian-Americans in the 1950's.

Throughout the narrative, the members of the group individually address the camera, setting scenes, providing their own point of view, explaining their attitudes toward their music, their lives, and each other. The chief spokesman is Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), a convicted felon and slick operator who manages the group and finally helps destroy it. Despite his faults, he also serves as the promoter of Frankie Valli's career, a fact that the singer never forgets and that eventually leads him to a grand gesture of sacrifice for his friend.

Born Francesco Castelluccio, Valli (John Lloyd Young) sings in a remarkable high tenor, even a falsetto that gives the group's songs some of the distinctive quality that created their tremendous success. After playing in the usual third-rate venues — low bars, dances, bowling alleys — they achieve a breakthrough with the songwriting of Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) and the producing of Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle). The group's first big hit, "Sherry," leads to a string of others, including "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," "I Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," and "Oh, What a Night."

Aside from hit records and profitable concert tours all over the country, The Four Seasons achieve a place in the pantheon of entertainment in its era, an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Years before the Beatles made its television debut on that program, The Four Seasons drove the audience into the same joyous frenzy that greeted the English musicians bringing rock 'n' roll back to the United States, where it all began.

Although it lacks some back story and some subsequent narrative continuity in places, when it moves beyond the usual montage of the group's performances, the script focuses on Frankie Valli's personal life. His marriage to Mary (Renée Marino), a tough-talking woman from his neighborhood, eventually dissolves under the pressure of his traveling and the usual infidelities; he loses his troubled daughter Francine (Freya Tingley), apparently to a drug overdose.

Beyond the terrific singing and the history of an important group of musicians, the movie shows something of the life of working-class Italian-Americans in the 1950's in a neighborhood where the group's music provides an escape from the narrow possibilities of a lousy job, the military, or the Mafia. A benevolent mob boss, Gyp DeCarlo, wonderfully played by Christopher Walken, in fact helps Frankie and his friends, adjudicating a dispute involving an enormous debt Tommy DeVito owes to a loan shark.

"Jersey Boys" captures some of the atmosphere of what may be, justifiably or not, the last exuberant decade in America, before the assassinations, the Vietnam War, the riots, the civil unrest, the drug revolution, the chaos of the 1960's. It shows the young women with those big bouffant hairdos, the funny clothing styles, the great convertibles with their totally nonfunctional tailfins, and of course the great explosion of rock 'n' roll. In addition to its montage of performances, it employs one grand production number, a wonderful scene while the credits roll, of the whole cast, from the stars to the minor players, singing and dancing down a New Jersey street, a buoyant celebration of the music, the time, the movie itself. Oh, what a night, indeed.

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