Making the Grades
Clint Eastwood once again shows off his remarkable directing abilities in Jersey Boys, a cinematic remake of the popular Broadway show of the same name. And who are these young men from New Jersey? After many re-brandings and pseudonyms they are best known as Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, the popular music group that even gave the Beatles a run for the top of the charts during the early 1960s.
Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) began performing in bars in his neighborhood when he was “discovered” by Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken), a local Mob boss who took a liking to the falsetto singer. DeCarlo also kept Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) by his side, another young musician who helped the “boss” pull off local heists. After DeCarlo charged DeVito with watching over the promising youth, DeVito involved the naive Valli in his band, as well as the robbery trade.
Not sure which option will pay the best, DeVito juggles both gifs and crime. The addition of Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) and his trademarked bass voice to the group gives it a bit of a boost. But it isn’t until they meet songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), a complete stranger who has just struck gold with his hit single Short, Shorts, that it looks like the music side of the equation might win out. Hoping they have found a good thing, Valli agrees to share a quarter of the band’s ownership with Gaudio. It’s a deal that ruffles DeVito’s hustler instincts.
With Gaudio penning the tunes the boys quickly start cranking out hits like Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry and Walk Like a Man. Yet the increased cash and recognition only helps to create more friction between DeVito, who is acting as de facto business manager, and Valli. Succumbing to the temptations of success and the ease of which he can bed women, the now married DeVito is as liberal with his morals as he is with the group’s bank account. Meanwhile the more prudent Valli, along with Gaudio, increases his tight hold on the creative reins. Not surprisingly the imperfect arrangement erupts in a climatic revelation that forever fractures the band.
A little like viewing a well-choreographed train wreck, punctuated with fun music, the captivating story presents a bundle of mixed messages for parents to consider. Organized crime is seen as a common element in the community and doing time in the local penitentiary is akin to an after school detention with your buddies—only six months longer. DeVito’s promiscuous behavior is frequently referenced and his desire to see Gaudio lose his virginity motivates him to send the young man a “Christmas present” in the form of a woman who ensures the quiet songwriter is no longer pure. (The scene shows little sexual activity.) Amidst all of this expect to hear over 30 sexual expletives (the main reason for the movie’s R-rating in the U.S.) and a solid collection of other top hits of profanity. A point-blank shooting to the head is depicted. And alcohol use and smoking are pervasive.
On a more positive note, Valli is portrayed as a man who is doing his best to balance life on the road and his family at home, turning down offers to attend parties in favor of spending what little time he can with his wife (Renée Marino) and daughters. Sadly his spouse’s dependence on alcohol combined with his frequent absences will eventually lead to a bitter breakup and future heartbreaks with his children.
Artistically solid, Jersey Boys boast set design that spans multiple time periods and strong actors that perform most of the music live. The compelling movie also illustrates many of the potholes on the road to fame—along with showcasing Eastwood’s directing prowess.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Jersey Boys.
Frankie Valli spoke with Parade magazine. In the interview he talks about how he met mobster Gyp DeCarlo and his views on other aspects of the movie Jersey Boys.