Jersey Boys (2014)

I saw the Jersey Boys movie last week with my niece and I loved it. (I have to mention that I went with my niece because she gets huffy if creds are not given.) They made me wait a month after its release in the US, and made me go to the far land of Makati because it was only playing in select theaters here, but it was worth it.

I am a huge fan of the musical.  I play the cast recording all the time, and I may also have the teensiest crush on John Lloyd Young. Teensy tiny crush. He played the original Frankie Valli on Broadway and won a Tony for it. He came back to Broadway after a few years and also performed on the West End.  You already know that the musical is about how Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons came to be, right? It’s sometimes referred to as a jukebox musical, in a derogatory way. This is totally wrong. Jukebox musicals are so called because they take the already-released hits of a composer or singer and fit them in the context of a play. But Jersey Boys is about a singing group, and the songs are performed chronologically – from their first hit to their last. The musical is about their story, and the highlights just happen to be hit songs. And if you’ve been exposed to any form of TV or radio in the past 30 years, you would know these hits – “Sherry”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Walk Like A Man”, “Working My Way Back To You”, “Who Loves You”, etc. Personally, the one song I was aware of was “Walk Like A Man” because of its use in the movie Heart and Souls. I loved that, so I was prepared to love Frankie Valli. Also, he did sing the theme song to Grease.

Movie adaptations of Broadway musicals are, more often than not, epic fails. See: Rock of Ages, the biggest gob of spit in Broadway’s face. Seriously, Tom Cruise proved that he was the biggest dementor of them all for sucking all the joy and fun out of that musical, and basically for sucking everyone else’s will to live. But Clint Eastwood did everything right with Jersey Boys.

First of all, he got the original Broadway actor to play Frankie. Even if it’s been 9 years since he started the role. Almost all major roles went to stage actors who played their movie roles on the stage as well. The exceptions he made to this rule were also perfect – Vincent Piazza plays the crucial role of Tommy DeVito, who serves as the foil for Frankie, and he was just “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”-incredible. (See what I did there?) And also, Christopher Walken. Has Walken ever sucked at anything? I don’t think so.

Secondly, Eastwood got the musical writers to work on the screenplay. And it showed. Throughout the movie I could feel the respect for the original material. Of course, you have to have a different set of expectations when watching a movie based on a musical. Not everything is going to be the same. In this case, there was more backstory development, some songs were expanded, which was great – and some were shortened or cut altogether. This was my one gripe – they totally cut “Fallen Angel”! That would have been a perfect moment for Frankie. That song comes at one of the most poignant moments in the play, but for some reason that I honestly still can’t understand, Eastwood decided to leave that out. All we heard was the intro as a sort of instrumental background.

Having said all that, I really felt that the film captured the essence of the play. Most of the dialogue was actually a word for word reproduction from the play. And the actors sang live, which gave the musical performances a raw genuineness and warmth. And these are Broadway actors, people, which means they have the chops! And the last scene, from the Hall of Fame Induction, just gave me goosebumps all over. By the time of the finale, which was almost the same as in the play and was a fitting tribute to it, I was barely keeping it together trying not to cry. You could tell that the crowd at the theater also got into it because everyone burst into spontaneous applause after that last scene.

The movie soundtrack is also another reason to be happy. The title says “Music From The Motion Picture and Broadway Musical”, so you get versions from the play, original versions from The Four Seasons, and of course the recordings from the movie. And you get mashups of The Four Seasons and John Lloyd Young! The seamless transition from Frankie’s voice to John’s means, as my sister tells me, that they sang in the same key. Which really… isn’t John Lloyd Young awesome?

I know there have been some mixed reviews for this movie, but I for one was extremely satisfied. I give it a score of 99% (because damnit, I wanted my “Fallen Angel”!) and I cannot wait for the DVD to come out so I can watch it again and again and again.