American music history has had its fair share of notable moments. The 1950s and 1960s in particular, were an era in which catchy songs and talented performers reigned supreme. One such group was Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. These gifted young men were responsible for hit after hit including but not limited to “Sherry”, “Walk Like a Man”, and “Big Girls Don’t Cry”. A highly entertaining Tony Award-winning Broadway musical was created to detail the rise of The Four Seasons and it ran and continues to run, selling tickets to this day about a decade after its debut. It was only a matter of time until a big Hollywood film adaption would follow and it did. Helmed by veteran filmmaker Clint Eastwood, Jersey Boys is now in theaters and ready to transport you back to a time when music was not only highly enjoyable but extremely memorable.
The film focuses on Valli (John Lloyd Young), a 16 year-old dreamer with a highly unique falsetto voice. He spends his spare time singing and getting himself into trouble with the “mobbed up” Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza). With strong ties to mobster Gyp DeCarlo (a seemingly bored Christopher Walken), the two young men just don’t know when to quit. That is until they start getting serious about their music careers by linking up with the tall but quiet bass player Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), and singer-songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen). Together, they form The Four Seasons and the 2-hour+ film explores their rise to fame in wonderful detail.
Jersey Boys as a film doesn’t quite work as well as it does on a live stage. Sure, the story is interesting but it lacks a certain element that makes it truly great. It’s basically a lukewarm hybrid of That Thing You Do! andGoodfellas. While the relationships between the members of The Four Seasons makes for a satisfying watch, the history behind the legendary act, as well as its mafia slant, seems overtly familiar. That being said, the film’s only saving graces are but a few of the cast’s performances. John Lloyd Young’s voice is phenomenal and his onscreen singing is the stuff of legends. He actually served as a principle cast member in the Broadway show and his talent transfers over to the screen very smoothly. Vincent Piazza (Boardwalk Empire) steals the show as Tommy DeVito, a sketchy wannabe gangster who handles The Four Seasons’ wheeling and dealing. His tough guy performance is definitely a knockout and one the film’s better qualities. It is also worth noting that Erich Bergen also played Bob Gaudio in a tour of the Jersey Boys show. The same goes for Michael Lomenda who played Nick Massi in another tour of the show.
Despite his resume, Jersey Boys is an ambitious undertaking for Clint Eastwood, and while he tries to make the film dark at times, the tone shifts too often to tell the tale in a straightforward and fluid manner. The main characters break the fourth wall in a poor attempt to narrate and provide humor, and the musical montages are few and far between.
The show’s original scribes, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, were brought on to adapt the story to film but the dialogue is at times dull and uninspiring despite the efforts by the entire cast. On a positive note; the technical aspects of the film are pretty stellar. Tom Stern’s cinematography, James J. Murakami’s production design, and Deborah Hopper’s costumes all deserve huge praise because they all help to transport the audience to the 1950s-1970s.
While not a perfect film, Jersey Boys is definitely worth a look… and a listen. With its 2 1/2-hour runtime, it may at times feel like an overlong biopic and it is but it is also at times, an entertaining drama peppered with powerful performances, terrific technical work, and an expert directorial job by Mr. Eastwood. The Four Seasons are an American institution and this film does the group justice. You might even find yourself clapping along during the film’s rousing end credit sequence.