By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Feeling more like a standard music artists’ biopic and less like a musical, Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of the Tony Award winning and critically acclaimed Broadway musical seems to lack a vibrancy and energy that I expected. I have never actually seen a stage production of Jersey Boys, but have spoken with people who have. As usual, I also did my research prior to writing this review. Though Eastwood and writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice maintain the wit and humor of the play, Eastwood’s straightforward approach just doesn’t really offer audiences the experience they deserve, particularly in the musical numbers. Thankfully, the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, as well as their lovable songs manage to carry the film and make it an enjoyable journey nevertheless.
In a working class neighborhood in New Jersey, Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) and his buddies including Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young), when not running scams and committing petty crimes, attempt to break into the music business performing at local bars and clubs. DeVito’s buddy Joe Pesci (Joey Russ0) introduces Frankie, Tommy, and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) to singer/songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen). The young men form the Four Seasons with Frankie’s (now Valli) golden falsetto leading them on a road to stardom. Still, old bad habits die hard, as Tommy’s vices eventually threaten the success of the group.
Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who also wrote the hit musical, wrote the screenplay for Eastwood’s film. They do seem to remain somewhat faithful to their stage script, though they make some changes, eliminating the seasonal act structure. The play’s acts are broken down into the four seasons of the year (spring, summer, fall, winter) and I found this structure novel and inventive. Once I learned this, I was a bit disappointed that Brickman and Elice didn’t maintain this breakdown of the story. I am glad that kept the narration by the different group members though.
Working with cinematographer Tom Stern, Eastwood brings a cold, somewhat drab look to the film. I think this works well in some scenes, particularly in the rough beginnings and the darker times of the group’s career, but I wanted to see the musical performances come alive with brightness and vivid colors. This absence of life and color in these key scenes tells me that the film’s producers should have chosen a different director than Eastwood. He does a fine job with the dramatic moments in the film, but perhaps directing musical numbers is not his forte. The exceptional performances of the lead cast members kept me engaged and invested in what really is a fascinating story.
Tony Award winning actor John Lloyd Young, who played Valli in the Broadway production of Jersey Boys wonderfully reprises his role in the film version. He is absolutely phenomenal, bringing a lovely marriage of vulnerability and strength to the character and is electric in his musical numbers. The man has a hell of a voice and offers an uncanny performance of Frankie Valli’s vocals. Casting anyone else in this role would have been an abomination. The extraordinary Vincent Piazza, who portrays Tommy DeVito, brings a brash and ballsy bravado to his character. DeVito is portrayed as the fast talking troublemaker of the group, whose personality does get the band far, but also gets them into trouble. Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda complete the group’s lineup as Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi (respectively). These two talented actors certainly have their stellar moments in the movie also.
The film also features some superb supporting turns by Christopher Walken, who portrays mob boss Gyp DeCarlo and Renee Marino, who stars as Frankie’s first wife Mary. Actor Mike Doyle offers a hilarious performance as the breakout character Bob Crewe, a wildly flamboyant songwriter and record producer who helps the Four Seasons achieve their success. Doyle is a total blast to watch and often had me laughing and smiling.
This film, as a whole, did have that effect on me also. Great songs, sensational performances, and an absorbing story make this movie version of the Broadway musical quite watchable and likeable; however, I really wish Eastwood would have put more effort into making the musical numbers more spectacular. This is what makes his movie less of a musical and more of a biopic and that is what disappointed be the most. I’m speculating that fans of the stage production will also probably be disappointed with the sometimes lackluster presentation of their beloved musical. I will reluctantly recommend this as a matinee, simply for the sound systems most theaters have to offer, but if one has a great home theater set up, I’d wait to rent this one.