Film review: Jersey Boys: Chasing the music while trying to get home

Elizabeth Lolarga (The Philippine Star) - August 8, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - “With blockbusters increasingly crowding out smaller fare from theaters, isn’t this exactly the direction independent movies should head in to survive?” — Graeme McMillan on the success of video on demand,

How long did Jersey Boys play in the Metro Manila cinemas? Less than two weeks by our reckoning. After the brief run, the Baby Boomers, who grooved and sang along to the music of their generation inside the theaters, are saying “Sayang, you missed it!” to those who didn’t catch the hit Broadway musical-turned-movie. Although it’s not an indie movie, one hopes it merits another theater run before people seek the DVD or wait for it on HBO two years hence. 

Jersey Boys is no small fare. It has a humongous lot to say about the emptiness of fame and riches, the vagabond musicians’ life that is hard on their families (200 days of a year on the road), the culture of New Jersey (NJ) that continues to gift the entertainment world with talents like Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, the late Whitney Houston, even actors Meryl Streep and Joe Pesci, a minor character in the movie’s beginning who becomes big time later on. Prominent in NJ culture are the Italian-American mobsters who control businesses like barber shops, pizza joints and nightclubs, and lend out money in “five-six” fashion.

During the first third of the more than two-hour long movie, it was a hoot to hear the term “objective correlative,” a literary device used to sort of blunt the expression of raw emotion and make something else stand for it.

That term was famous in literature classes of the ’60s. It resurfaces in this biopic about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons when the group’s hitmaker Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), a lover of T.S. Eliot’s poetry, is invited, more like hustled, to join the foursome that was initially called The Four Lovers.

Tommy DeVito (played by Vince Piazza, looking like a younger Dermot Mulroney) is the group’s “bad boy,” piling up debt after debt from high living until the noble, self-sacrificing (although not exactly saintly) Valli decides to pay off this debt to the Mob.

That means more singing in state fairs, private parties, club dates, less time for his family, especially for a sensitive daughter who dies a tragic death and the source of the father’s deeply felt singing of My Eyes Adored You: “Headed for the city lights/Climbed the ladder up/To fortune and fame/I worked my fingers to the bone/Made myself a name/Funny I seem to find/No matter how the years unwind/Still I reminisce about the girl I miss/And the love I left behind.”

That’s just one of the sub-plots in the story of the group’s rise to fame when Valli’s falsetto voice was then a novelty. This was the era when close harmony singing in groups of two, three, four or five was a rage. Think Everly Brothers, The Cascades, The Righteous Brothers, The Shirelles. All these boys and girls sounded so pleasing to the ears until The Beatles crashed into the scene and changed the whole course of pop and rock music.

There’s no big-name star on the screen, except maybe for old reliable character actor Christopher Walken as Gyp DeCarlo, the Mob’s capo di tutti capi who has a soft spot for sentimental music that reminds him of his mama. He is confident of The Four Seasons,’ especially Valli’s, success even before they can take off.

The way Walken plays Gyp, he comes off as a parody of Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone in The Godfather but a delightful one. And as the movie’s end credits were  shown, he again shows his dancing skills. This fan puts him up there with those Steady Eddie actors like Kevin Spacey, Gene Hackman, Michael Caine and Robert Duvall. In every role, even cameo ones, they come out consistently memorable. No small parts, indeed.

Clint Eastwood, whose fine taste in jazz music is evident in the films he has both directed and starred in, took a gamble, and apparently won, with pop music-oriented Jersey Boys. He even wittily inserted a TV clip of his himself a la Hitchcock midway in the movie. Clearly, everyone had a good time until they worked their way back home.

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