Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Ave Maria Baby

I queued up Jersey Boys (2014) because we had a friend visiting who likes to talk through movies - and I figured we wouldn't mind for this. It turned out that we didn't watch it with her, and I'm glad we did. I'm not a big Frankie Valli fan, but he had some great songs, and he sure could sing. And director Clint Eastwood has the kind of love for music that really comes through.

It's the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, from street hoods to their reunion concert. It starts with Tommy Devito talking direct to the audience, and we get a bit of that from everyone. In Devito's mind, he was Frankie's mentor, which mostly involved dumb crimes. Everyone goes to prison except Frankie - he's a good boy whose parents want him home early.

They are also under the patronage of mob boss Christopher Walken, who has maybe never been Christopher Walkenier. He loves Frankie's voice, and we soon find out just how lovely it is. Then one of their lowlife friends suggests that they get together with Bob Gaudio, who wrote "Short Shorts" - even though he is from Bergenfeld, not the Neighborhood. With Nick Massi on bass vocals and bass guitar, they were the Four Somethings. It becomes Four Seasons when a misfiring neon sign that seems to say "our sons" lights up as "Four Seasons".

That's the kind of goofy stuff that comes from a Marshall Brickman (Manhattan) screenplay. There's some real slapstick stuff in there. The scene where they steal a safe and load it into the trunk, which lifts the car off it's front wheels, so that it slams into a jewelry store window - that should give you an idea. But there's some real stuff there too, mostly Tommy being a jerk, with Gaudio wanting to get serious about music, and Nick wanting to start his own band. Actually, Nick is kind of boring, which is interesting. He is played by Michael Lomenda, who has a kind of Nat Pendleton vibe - kind of dumb and easygoing, but not just background.

There's some comedy, some drama, and a lot of great music. The singing was all filmed live - not lipsynced. The cast does their own singing, and mostly come from the Broadway or touring cast. We get to know a little bit about Bob Gaudio, who wrote most of the songs, and their producer, the flamboyantly gay Bob Crewe. I love to learn about that side of the music biz.

There's a scene with the guys making fun for "Walk Like a Man" - I always laugh about the mismatch between the girlish voice and the macho lyrics, and I guess they get the joke too. Still a great song.

I feel like Valli himself is a bit of a void at the heart of this movie. He seems like a quiet type, keeps to himself. He's serious and works hard and doesn't let a lot of pride or frustration show. Then it all comes out in his soaring falsetto.

Still, it all make me think, just a little, of Paul Anka in Girls Town.

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