'Jersey Boys' vs. 'Obvious Child'? Better to Listen to the Music!

By TOM JOZWIK - Special to TimeOut

June 26, 2014

“Jersey Boys”
134 minutes, R

It probably comes down to this: if you enjoy the music of the Four Seasons (and literally millions do), you’re likely to enjoy “Jersey Boys,” the Clint Eastwood-directed film version of the hit Broadway musical about the group.  

What’s not to like, after all, about listening to very reasonable facsimiles of “Sherry,” “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night),” “Walk Like a Man,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and other selections from the canon of Frankie Valli and company?  

The movie has Valli (John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony for playing the role on Broadway) and the rest of the Seasons singing their songs in various settings. Young croons “My Eyes Adored You” as a lullaby to his daughter and the boys belt out “Dawn” at the Ohio State Fair. Other venues include night clubs, sound studios, and “The Ed Sullivan Show,” in connection with which the dour host is seen first on a TV screen (as is Eastwood, in a 50-year-old clip from his “Rawhide” series), then from behind in the guise of a shuffling actor.  

An unusual but welcome device in “Jersey Boys” is the use of not just one narrator but four. Each member of the famed band - played by Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda, in addition to Young - breaks the dramatic fourth wall to provide background information. The gambit would’ve been even better had each character put a more definite personal spin on things, which the several narrators in  “Citizen Kane” did. As Piazza, playing original Jersey Boy Tommy DeVito, puts it in what has become the film’s tagline, “Everybody remembers it how they need to.”  

“Jersey Boys” (as you might’ve guessed,  given its stage musical basis) is meant to be more a showcase for Four Seasons songs, truncated or in their entirety,  than a painstaking biopic. Thus main character Valli’s growing-up years, marital and familial woes and unwillingness for the longest time to move out of his modest Newark neighborhood because of an irrational fear his fame and fortune would be fleeting are painted with broad strokes-condensed into representative scenes or referred to offhandedly, but hardly spelled out.  

If “Jersey Boys” is Frankie Valli’s picture (and, by extension, John Lloyd Young’s), the best acting job is Christopher Walken’s as non-singing, large-living gangster Gyp DeCarlo, who’s as sentimental as he is practical. Captivated early on by Valli and his “gift from God” pipes, Walken’s wiseguy befriends Valli’s bandmates also and smooths out Seasons’ troubles as the years go by. Walken’s turn in front of the camera could certainly be remembered when Golden Globe and Oscar nominees are next selected.  

As for Young, he’s in the movie more for his singing than his acting (and he is quite a singer). Young seems too old to play Frankie the teenager, too young to portray Valli the middle-ager

Rating: 3 stars   

“Obvious Child”
84 minutes, R  

The best thing about “Obvious Child”? It was short enough that I got home in time to see a good half of that night’s Brewers game.  

That sounded snarky, I know, but I found more to dislike than to like about Gillian Robespierre’s third directorial effort. (Robespierre also wrote the script for this comedy feature, which is based on her 2009 short by the same title.) My “dislike” category includes the stand-up comic protagonist’s recurring raunchiness, which first manifests itself the moment the movie begins (to negligible laughter when I attended).  

Even more objectionable is the cavalier manner in which abortion is treated. “I’m pregnant; I’m having an abortion,” the part-time comic, New Yorker Donna Stern, announces to her mother (an inconsistent character with whom actress Polly Draper, a personal favorite on “Thirtysomething” years ago, is saddled). “Thank God,” mom casually responds. “I thought you were going to say you were moving to Los Angeles.”  

 Then there are the hackneyed pearls of wisdom put forth by one character or another, like “Change is good” and “Sometimes we just have to let go of the things we love.” And the tacky ease with which characters relinquish privacy when nature calls.

Beyond all that, the film has a realistic ring and Jenny Slate (a real-life stand-up comic and former “Saturday Night Live” cast member) renders a nicely nuanced performance as Donna. Had she been less crass, and had she ever done a lick of work on her day job at a bookstore, I’d have been more sympathetic to Donna’s unplanned pregnancy-might’ve even really liked the character. I did like Jake Lacy (Pete on TV’s “The Office”), who plays opposite Slate as her good guy partner (shades of Michael Cera and “Juno”) in the sweetish love story that is “Obvious Child’s” best aspect.  

Rating: 2 stars