'Jersey Boys' one of Eastwood's best films

Gary Wolcott, atomictown.comJune 19, 2014 

My family lived to Kennewick in January 1962. I was 12, and my parents bought me a record player for Christmas. They had no clue what music I liked, so they picked tunes they liked. I was a budding rock and roller and thought the music pretty much sucked.

Mom was shopping for something at a Payless in what was then the Kennewick Highlands. For those not familiar with the era, as I remember, it was in the shopping center on the corner of Clearwater and 395, close to the Highland Drive-in theater.

After much sulking and nagging, she agreed to let me buy an album.

Unfortunately, the drug and variety store's selection also sucked. Instead of getting something more interesting like one from Chuck Berry or Little Richard, or even Roy Orbison, Del Shannon or the Everly Brothers, I was stuck with a ditty called Sherry & 11 Others.

It wasn't my first choice, but it wasn't a bad one. The band -- The Four Seasons -- featured Frankie Valli, a perfect-pitched lead singer with the best falsetto heard then and stretching to now.

Jersey Boys is Valli's and The Four Seasons' story. It's based on the successful Broadway play of the same name and is brilliantly brought to life by Clint Eastwood. His 36th film -- the first he's done since 2011's disastrous J. Edgar -- is one of his best and certainly his best since Million Dollar Baby.

Eastwood is one of the best storytellers in the business. He can take credit for moving a long film at a great pace and for the exceptional casting. The story -- which is the real star here -- comes from a book turned into a musical done by Woody Allen's favorite co-writer Marshall Brickman (Annie Hall) and his co-writer Rick Elise.

The film goes through the founding of the band in the 1950s in New Jersey through its Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1990.

Relative newcomers John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Michael Lomenda, Erich Bergen and Mike Doyle play the band's principals. All give better than great performances and do their own vocals.

Young plays the diminutive Valli with skill, and with even greater skill manages to hit those pants-tightening high notes. Piazza plays Tommy DeVito, Valli's best friend, the band's founder, guitarist and heavy-duty scammer.

Songwriters Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe are played with perfection by Bergen and Doyle. Bassist Nick Massi is played by Lomenda, and the cast is rounded out with another easy-to-like performance from Christopher Walken, who plays real-life mobster and band friend Gyp DeCarlo.

Fans of the band, and people like me who grew up with Four Seasons music, will love the soundtrack and will admire the skill with which the actors and Eastwood recreate the band's sound.

It's also easy to love the film's Broadway flavor. Each of the band members individually address the audience at various times and help set the mood and tone of the movie and what they are thinking, feeling and experiencing.

One small complaint, though. The movie needs a timeline. I worked rock and Top-40 radio for a couple of decades, and grew up with the music, so I had no trouble guessing what year things were happening. Many of you will not have that luxury.

It's a minor distraction.

Jersey Boys is a human though kind-of-on-the-surface story of one of the most popular bands and singers in history. Not much in the film will make big girls or big boys cry, but it is easily the summer's first -- and the way things are shaping up -- maybe the summer's only blockbuster.

And trust me on this, Jersey Boys will be an awards nomination magnet at year's end.

Director: Clint Eastwood

Stars: John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Michael Lomenda, Erich Bergen, Mike Doyle, Christopher Walken

Mr. Movie rating: 5 stars

Rated R for mature themes and language. It's playing at Regal's Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.

-- Disagree with Mr. Movie's fearless movie assessments? Let him know at www.tricityherald.com/arts/mrmovie.

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