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Eastwood’s jukebox musical nice, entertaining Zendaya says she’s the right fit for Aaliyah role

Almost everyone I know with living parents has gotten the phone call where Mom asks, “Have you seen ‘The Jersey Boys’? Your father and I went last night, and we loved it.”
If you’re a fan of harmonic 1960s pop, or cars with fins, “Jersey Boys” will provide a nice evening out at the movies. It’s nice. It’s entertaining. It’s pleasant. It’s all the positive adjectives that mean “not terrible, but ultimately negligible.”
Clint Eastwood directs the film adaptation of the global stage hit, and the movie fulfills the duties of a jukebox musical: it works in the hits, and it casts singers who make those hits sound virtually identical to the original versions. What the movie doesn’t do is answer the question, “Why did I just spend 134 minutes watching the Frankie Valli episode of ‘Behind the Music’?”
Valli and the Four Seasons are certainly responsible for more than their share of memorable pop ditties, but there’s nothing about their lives or their music that makes them more of a biopic candidate than, say, The Beach Boys or The Kinks or The Ink Spots.
It doesn’t help that the rougher edges of the story are sanded down whenever possible: We’re informed immediately by group founder Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) that he and Frankie (John Lloyd Young) had mob ties, although it’s really Tommy who’s more connected, since he’s an errand boy for local made man Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken).
Tommy is the driving force behind the band, but he’s also a hothead who gets deeply into debt with loansharks when he’s not going to jail for petty offenses. There are actors out there who could effectively portray a genuine menace while also singing four-part harmony, but Piazza isn’t one of them.

 He’s credible as a musician, but never as threatening as Norm Waxman (Donnie Kehr), Tommy’s loanshark. The film’s other mobsters, Walken included, come off innocuously, as if to say, “Hey, these guys had mob ties, but not, you know, the bad kind.”
The trajectory of the Four Seasons is one we know from a million rock biopics (and fictional band movies like “That Thing You Do!” and “The Commitments) — the struggle to get signed, early success, in-fighting, familial strife, bridge, chorus. Screenwriters Marshall Brickman (Woody Allen’s collaborator on “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan”) and Rick Elice, adapting their book of the stage musical, keep things moving along, even interjecting odd humor at places, but they wage an uphill battle against genre conventions. Sometimes the cliches are knowingly funny, like when the group gets its name from the neon advertisement for a bowling alley, and someone says, “It’s a sign!” But then you get songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) watching “Ace in the Hole” on TV with lyricist-producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle); when Kirk Douglas slaps Jan Sterling in the Billy Wilder movie, Crewe comments, “Big girls don’t cry,” and Eastwood does everything but insert a lightbulb going off over Gaudio’s head.

Cinematographer Tom Stern, a frequent Eastwood collaborator, accentuates the film’s feeling of days gone by, by frequently desaturating the colors; sometimes the movie looks like a faded postcard, and at other times it’s all but monochromatic.

For anyone concerned about who would play Aaliyah in a film about her life, the girl who earned the role — 17-year-old Zendaya — says it mattered to her, too.
“I really want it to be perfect for her and show young people what she was able to do and what she accomplished,” the Disney Channel star said in an interview Tuesday, a day after Lifetime announced she would play the role of the R&B singer.
Zendaya says she’s the right choice for the part because “if you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.”
Aaliyah was killed in 2001 at age 22 when her plane crashed after takeoff from a Bahamian runway. She dominated on the R&B and pop charts, earning platinum-plus albums and racking hits with songs like “Try Again,” ‘’Back & Forth” and “Are You That Somebody?”
Zendaya, who was the runner-up on “Dancing With the Stars” last year, says she’s aware the role comes with a lot of scrutiny.
“I can’t please everybody ... what I can do is work really hard and you know, just continue to show her legacy,” she said. Zendaya was almost five at the time Aaliyah died. She says she remembers watching the singer’s music videos when her older sister would babysit her.
Zendaya is recording some of Aaliyah’s songs for the film. Zendaya, who made her debut on the Disney Channel series “Shake It Up” in 2010, released her first album last year, which featured the platinum hit “Replay.”

She says her success as a young star helps her relate to Aaliyah, who released her debut album at age 15.
“I feel like she grew up so young and she grew up in the industry ... and she just had to deal with so much,” she said. “I connect with that.”
Zendaya also stars in the Disney Channel movie “Zapped,” which premieres June 27. She will also co-produce and act in the network’s upcoming show “K.C. Undercover.”
The Aaliyah film is based on the book “Aaliyah: More Than A Woman” by music journalist Christopher Farley. Shooting is scheduled for this summer. (Agencies)

By Alonso Duralde

By: Alonso Duralde

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