Adaptation Biography

Oh, What a Blu-ray Review: Jersey Boys

November 19, 2014Ben Mk


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(Not just) all about that bass...

From Chicago to Dreamgirls, Little Shop of Horrors to Les Misérables, Hollywood has been mining Broadway's arsenal of stage productions — especially those of the musical variety — for cinematic gold for decades. With that in mind, the latest stage-to-screen adaptation, Jersey Boys, has been a long time coming. Originally brought to the stage in 2005, Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons has gone on to play to sell-out audiences worldwide. And now, nearly a decade later, it has made its transition to the silver screen, courtesy of director Clint Eastwood.

   

The Film Like its Tony Award-winning Broadway namesake, the film traces the history of iconic '60s pop group The Four Seasons — and the trials and tribulations of its members, Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi and Bob Gaudio — from their humble origins in 1951 to their 1990 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, not to mention all the ups and downs in-between.

Their story begins in the town of Belleville, New Jersey, where a then-16-year-old Frankie (John Lloyd Young) sweeps up hair at a neighborhood barber shop by day, while his friends Tommy (Vincent Piazza) and Nick (Michael Lomenda), play in a three-piece band at The Strand Club by night. And when they're not doing that, they're engaging in activities of questionable legality, such as heisting safes from local area businesses.

It was a rough time in a rough neighborhood. And as Tommy tells it, there were only three ways to make it out of there: by joining the army, getting "mobbed up" or getting famous.

Luckily, Tommy and Frankie — especially Frankie — have something of a guardian angel watching out for them: mobster Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken), a frequent patron of The Strand Club and the man most people in the neighborhood go to when they want something done. Gyp also has an ear for gifted voices, and for that reason he's taken a special liking to Frankie, encouraging him to share his impressive falsetto talent with the world.

Of course, that seems like nothing more than a pipe dream. But when Frankie, Tommy and Nick join forces with songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), then known for penning the song "Short Shorts", they take their first step toward making that dream a reality. Teaming up with seasoned music producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle), the foursome begin churning out hit after radio-friendly hit — in the form of chart-toppers such as "Walk Like a Man", "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Sherry" — capturing the hearts of music fans across America.

Behind the scenes, however, things weren't going quite as smoothly as their clean-cut stage personas let on, with bickering among the bandmates, problems arising from Tommy's gambling debts and Frankie's family issues at home.

Which brings us to where the film diverges from the stage production. Rather than allowing the songs to guide a humor-filled narrative, Eastwood brings the behind-the-scenes drama to the forefront and punctuates it with the occasional musical interlude. We still get a handful of memorable performances and, as in the Broadway version, some breaking of the fourth wall on the part of each of the four band members. Just don't expect a flashy Hollywood musical à la Chicago. Instead, think along the lines of a more sombre version of That Thing You Do!, and you'll be on the right track.

As for the cast, Eastwood opts to forego populating the film with name actors. Instead, he fills the majority of the roles with alumni from various iterations of the stage production, with the only principal role going to a marquee movie star being that of Gyp. It's a bold move, since for moviegoers unfamiliar with the original musical, this amounts to allowing a group of virtual unknowns carry the weight of the film. Luckily, Lloyd, Piazza, Lomenda and Bergen are up to the task, holding their own on-screen with Walken, and bringing an air of credibility to the proceedings in the process.

Audio/Visual Fidelity Jersey Boys takes center stage on Blu-ray with a solid A/V presentation that's sure to impress even the most discerning of viewers. Once again, Eastwood is working with cinematographer Tom Stern (with whom he's collaborated on such films as Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby and Mystic River), production designer James J. Murakami (who joined Eastwood on films like J. Edgar, Hereafter and Invictus) and costume designer Deborah Hopper (whose working relationship with Eastwood goes all the way back to the director's 2000 effort, Space Cowboys). And the hi-def transfer ensures that their period designs and stylized color palette shine through with crystal clarity, inky blacks and spot-on contrast levels. Similarly, the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack faithfully reproduces the movie's straightforward sound design, from the spot-on recreations of the hit songs, to the dialogue, to the occasional gunshot and car crash.

Special Features Warner's Blu-ray release includes DVD and UltraViolet digital copies of the film, plus 33 minutes of HD bonus features (comprised of three behind-the-scenes featurettes). The 23-minute From Broadway to the Big Screen chronicles the progression of the story from the stage to the screen, with contributions from writer Rick Elice, as well as various cast members. Too Good to Be True is a 5-minute piece that focuses on actor Donnie Kehr and his experiences playing the character of Norm Waxman in both the stage production and the movie. And "Oh, What a Night" to Remember is a brief, 5-minute look at the production of the film's memorable closing musical number.


The Bottom Line Translating from one medium to another is no easy feat, but Clint Eastwood does a commendable job with Jersey Boys. The overall tone of the film is a bit more serious than what those familiar with the Broadway version may remember, but thanks especially to its solid cast, it winds up being a fairly engaging effort nonetheless, both for fans and newcomers alike. Likewise, both camps should also be pleased with Warner's Blu-ray release, which boasts audio and video worth singing the praises of, as well as a lightweight array of supplemental material that pays homage to the movie's Broadway inspiration. If you're in the mood for an all-American musical biopic, Jersey Boys on Blu-ray fits the playbill.  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  








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