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Cinema in Focus: ‘Jersey Boys’

3 Stars — Thoughtful

Director Clint Eastwood has taken Jersey Boys, one of the most successful Broadway shows of the last 25 years, and expanded its likable story and music into a bio-epic. He has given star status again to the great Frankie Valli and the 1960s singing sensations the Four Seasons.

This is not just a Broadway sing-along, but a look at the ups and downs of stardom and the struggles that one balances between a happy life and a happy career. What emerges is a story of personal struggles that are heartbreaking, but at the same time, experiences that gave birth to some of the greatest pop songs of the late 20th century.

In 1960, the group known as the Four Lovers evolved into the Four Seasons, with Valli as the lead singer, Bob Gaudio on keyboards and tenor vocals, Tommy DeVito on lead guitar and baritone vocals, and Nick Massi on bass guitar and bass vocals.

Beginning in 1962, the group released their first album, featuring the single "Sherry" (a No. 1 hit), followed by "Big Girls Don't Cry" (their second No. 1 hit), "Walk Like a Man" (their third No. 1), "Candy Girl," "Ain't That a Shame," "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" and "Working My Way Back to You." In total, they had 71 hit songs spanning 25 years.

The Four Seasons (group members 1960-66) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, and joined the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999. They are one of the best-selling musical groups of all time, having sold an estimated 100 million records worldwide.

Born Francis Castelluccio on May 3, 1934, Valli grew up in a public housing project on the streets of Newark, N.J. This was not only an era of tough gangs and mob connections, it was also a place and time that gave hope to young boys through the emergence of other Italian celebrities such as Frank Sinatra.

Francis' transition to "Frankie Valli" (played by John Lloyd Young, who was awarded Best Actor at the 2006 Tony Awards for his portrayal of Valli in the Broadway show) was helped along the way through his neighborhood connection with "Gyp" DeCarlo (Christopher Walken). Angelo "Gyp" DeCarlo was a captain in the New Jersey branch of the Genovese mafia family who helped Valli navigate through the financial trials that almost finished their group. More than money, though, DeCarlo became the counselor than helped hold the group together when times got tough — a father figure who was firm but loving.

Valli's career has spanned a lifetime of changes in America. Having released his first single in 1953, he is still performing in 2014, and the Broadway musical version of Jersey Boys is a permanent fixture in New York and Las Vegas, let alone traveling the country in road shows.

While the music, which was mostly written by band member Gaudio, is the core of Valli's legendary success, it is his life that gives the movie its soul. His transition through the tough streets of Newark, his heartache at home, his loss of a daughter to a drug overdose in 1980, and his financial ruin and rebound are compelling stories of hope and resiliency. While the story doesn't dwell on his religious or spiritual upbringing, he does exhibit a strong sense of personal values and an ability to show compassion that makes him a lovable character at every stage of life.

Fame may be a blessing and a curse, but Jersey Boys gives a poignant portrayal of young men following their dreams. What appears today as wild success is really built on a lifetime of sacrifice, pain, faith-filled grace and a foundation of God-given talent. What started out as four guys harmonizing under a lamppost in New Jersey grew into a part of American history and culture.

Discussion

» The effort it takes to create a musical career is often not recognized when fame is achieved. Why do you think this is often the case?

» Does knowing that there was mob involvement in a musician's career change your enthusiasm for their music?

» The recognition of talent is as much a part of success as is the talent itself. How has your talent been recognized or not?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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