'Jersey Boys' hits the screen

From left: John Lloyd Young (Frankie Valli), Erich Bergen (Bob Gaudio), Vincent Piazza (Tommy DeVito) and Michael Lomenda (Nick Massi).
From left: John Lloyd Young (Frankie Valli), Erich Bergen (Bob Gaudio), Vincent Piazza (Tommy DeVito) and Michael Lomenda (Nick Massi).
Posted: June 20, 2014

A COMPOSER IN "Jersey Boys" says he's moved to write music when he hears the voice of Frankie Valli, which he compares favorably to greats like Dinah Washington.

In the ear of the beholder, I guess. There are others who think Valli sounds like one alley cat sexually assaulting another.

Yet no matter what you think of the voice behind "Rag Doll," you leave "Jersey Boys" with respect for the sheer determination of the crooner and his band the Four Seasons. They had way more hits than you think they had, and stuck around longer than you think they did.

How you feel about "Jersey Boys," the movie, is another matter. It's another example of how the finger snappin' urgency of live theater loses something when swallowed up by the bottled artifice of the movie screen.

Surely the chief pleasure of seeing "Jersey Boys" in person is the live music. Valli had a unique and distinctive voice, and seeing a performer recreate that on stage is part of the special magic of theater.

On film, where there are a billion layers of sophisticated recording technology between you and the performance, that magic is necessarily lost.

And what you're left with is a long-winded biopic (this thing runs way more than two hours) whose transparent Broadway origins leave it well back of more artful motion picture biographies like "Ray" and "Walk the Line."

"Jersey" starts out in North Jersey, where Valli (John Lloyd Young) is a middle-class kid singing in bars for band organized by a local hustler (Vincent Piazza), bankrolled by a local wiseguy (Christopher Walken), who keeps the band afloat until they find a talented songwriter (Erich Bergen) and the right record company producer (Mike Doyle, funny in this role).

Songs from Valli's vast catalogue of hits punctuate chapters in a standard life-on-the-road melodrama, where rivalries and tensions escalate to the point of breakup, followed by redemptive reunion (and some bad geriatric makeup) at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The movie could have paid more attention to the construction of the music, and much less to the embarrassingly underwritten roles of the women in the lives of the band members.

There are many shrill interludes of wives and girlfriends throwing furniture, voices building to a falsetto that somehow tops Valli's own.


Blog: philly.com/KeepItReel Online: ph.ly/Movies

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|