[rating=3]Starring: Vincent Piazza, John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Christopher Walken, Mike Doyle, Renee Marino, Kathrine Narducci, Lou Volpe, Erica Piccininni, Joey Russo and Freya Tingley
Writer(s): Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (songs by Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe)
Director(s): Clint Eastwood
Jersey Boys is a pretty good movie. Therein lies the problem. It is only pretty good. When I enter an auditorium to watch a movie directed by Clint Eastwood, I expect excellence. He rarely disappoints. Given that this is an adaptation of a smash-hit Broadway musical, it stood to reason that he would splash that musical across the big screen with his usual panache. It is a good film and there are many fine aspects to it; and perhaps I’m being unfair by having had such high expectations.
For those who don’t know already, Jersey Boys tells the tale of the Four Seasons, a very successful musical quartet that hit #1 before the Fab Four crossed the Atlantic. Francesco Castelluccio, who changed his name to Frankie Valli (Young), was a young barber by day and singer by night. Tommy DeVito (Piazza), his brother Nicky (Cannizzaro) and Nick Massi (Lomenda) had a trio and DeVito wanted to bring Valli in as their lead singer. DeVito worked for one of the local mob bosses, Gyp DeCarlo (Walken), who’d noticed that Valli has a very talented voice.
After trying hard and getting nowhere, Joe Pesci (Russo, and yes, we’re talking about the Oscar winning actor) brings another very talented musician, Bob Gaudio (Bergen) into the mix. Nicky had left the band and with Guadio, they become the Four Seasons (it happened in real life almost exactly how it is shown in the film). They hook up with producer Bob Crewe (Doyle) and after a sputtering start, the song “Sherry” rockets to the top of the charts. Tommy runs things and the band has successes. There are also problems and there is trouble on the horizon. Frankie Valli’s personal and professional lives do not co-exist well.
The story is told in a linear format with frequent flashbacks, but also utilized monologues by each of the four main characters, giving their unique perspective on the events as they transpire. The transitions from monologue to events aren’t always seamless, but this is more than outweighed by the stellar musical performance pieces. Clint Eastwood made the choice to record the performances live, not the usual method. The results are most of the movie’s best moments.
The casting of John Lloyd Young was an excellent choice, as he originated the role on Broadway and has the “pipes” to carry it off. The rest of the cast is more than adequate to the task, with Renee Marino having some marvelous moments. Considering that Christopher Walken would be brilliant in anything, even a remake of Plan Nine from Outer Space, it’s no surprise he stands out here.
I have not seen the musical on stage (something I need to rectify) so comparisons are inappropriate. The majority of the artistic license taken with the real events is fine, as the changes from what really took place to what’s shown on screen improve the story. Obviously, the music is spectacular. Definitely worth checking out.
The one omission from the real story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons that I would have liked to see in the film is his battle with otosclerosis. That’s an abnormal growth in the middle ear and it had robbed him of his ability to hear his own singing during the 1970s. He preserved in spite of this, and eventually surgery restored his hearing by 1980.
Rating – R for language throughout
Running time – two hours and fourteen minutes