VAUGHN: Jersey Boys

June 27, 2014 

Clint Eastwood seems to be moving further away from rough philosophy (“Mystic River,” “Million Dollar Baby”) to Americana-style nostalgia (“J. Edgar,” still rough).

The latter is typified with bright lights and glossy scenery in “Jersey Boys,” his latest film.

Originally a hit Broadway production, “Jersey Boys” tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

Think “Dreamgirls” with young Jersey thugs, mob politics and that famous falsetto.

Eastwood smartly tones down the Broadway showiness, which normally translate to cheesy scenes on the big screen, and focuses on the struggles of growing up as a working-class Italian kid in Jersey.

That struggle is demonstrated by his two polar opposite band members.

DeVito is old-school Jersey – big, tough and frustrated, the archetypical red-blooded male who gets into trouble and never admits wrong. For all his faults, he gets things done, like raising money for a demo and grabbing studio time.

Then there’s Bob, hired to play the keyboard and the furthest thing from old-school neighborhood kid. He is kind, studious and business-minded.

Even if DeVito planted the seed, without Bob the band would have never grown.

The tension builds as Valli gets put in the middle of the two bandmates and he has to show where his loyalty lies.

Eastwood takes the band’s struggle and the connections to the mafia to bring some dark edges to the story. He also borrows Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” technique of having each band member narrate his own story. Still, this is a tale of a band that finds success, can’t figure out how to live with the fame and balance wives and family, and things fall apart.

I didn’t realize just how much I knew about Frankie Valli’s music.

“Sherry,” “Rag Doll” and “Walk Like a Man” seem to have been in every movie that takes place in the 1960s.

It is exciting to see them performed on the screen, but Eastwood’s filmmaking lacks some of the vitality of the music. Shot from afar, there is a lack of passion and urgency, and the urgency of these love songs falls a little flat.

Apparently, that vitality is pulsing on the stage. So if you get the chance, try out the live version first.

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