Director Clint Eastwood brings the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons to the screen with Jersey Boys, based on the Broadway musical. Does Eastwood hit it big with this look at classic American pop music, or is it a disappointment? Jeffrey Harris checks in with his official review.
Directed By: Clint Eastwood Written By: Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice; Based on the musical. Runtime: 134 minutes MPAA Rating: Rated R
Frankie Valli - John Lloyd Young Tommy DeVito - Vincent Piazza Bob Gaudio - Erich Bergen Nick Massi - Michael Lomenda Gyp DeCarlo - Christopher Walken Mary Delgado - Renee Marino Joe Pesci - Joey Russo Mike Doyle - Bob Crewe Francine Valli - Freya Tingley Lorraine - Erica Piccininni Norm Waxman - Donnie Kehr
Director Clint Eastwood brings the popular Broadway musical to the screen with Jersey Boys, the life and times of the classic American pop band Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Based on the hit musical written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who also served as the screenwriters for this project, Eastwood opts for a biopic rather than a traditional musical.
Jersey Boys begins in the good old days when Frankie Valli (Young) and Tommy DeVito (Piazza) were young wise guys, messing around with petty crimes and trying to make it as a band. DeVito and his fellow musician Nick Massi (Lomenda) helped keep Valli out of trouble and off the streets. Valli’s gifted voice also earned him the admiration from mobster Angelo “Gyp” DeCarlo (Walken). After their band goes through many different iterations, and Tommy and Nick going in and out of jail, Joe Pesci (Russo playing *that* Joe Pesci) arranges for the group to bring on Bob Gaudio (Bergen) as its fourth singer, piano player, and songwriter. DeVito is reluctant, but Frankie thinks Bob would be great for the band, and Bob is enthralled by Frankie’s amazing voice. After a lot of hustling, the band earns a recording contract with Bob Crew (Mike Doyle). It’s not until the name change to The Four Seasons and Bob’s song “Sherry” that the band finally becomes a hit.
Unfortunately, despite its success on the charts, things did not get easier for the band. Life on the road creates a rift between Valli, his wife Mary (Marino), and his daughter Francine (Tingley). DeVito drives the group further into debt with his reckless habits and poor business acumen. A major tipping point is when DeVito gets the group into a hole with loan shark Norm Waxman (Kehr).
Jersey Boys is a great look at the formative and golden years of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Eastwood gives the film his personal touch, though it’s imbued with a lot more humor than many of his recent works. However, to be perfectly honest, I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of big, staged musical numbers throughout the film. Perhaps Eastwood still has bad memories from Paint Your Wagon. The movie does have one really great musical number sequence with “December, 1963 (Oh What a Night),” which ironically enough, was not even recorded by the band’s original lineup depicted in the film. The film really could have used a couple more scenes like this instead of trying to avoid musical tropes.
The main cast members are all tremendous performers and disappear into their roles. Thankfully, Eastwood cast mainly actors who had played the roles onstage for the roles of Frankie Valli, Nick Massi, and Bob Gaudio. Gaudio’s character is actually the most impressive. Despite being the youngest member of the band, Gaudio was the most emotionally mature one. He was a child prodigy in his teens and could really do it all--writing music, singing, playing keyboard and piano, and producing. Gaudio knew how to right the course with Valli and get him out of his ruts. He also knew when to say no to the vices of DeVito, the main source of much of the band’s strife. Bergen is tremendous in the role of this young wunderkind. Valli puts in a fantastic performance by physically and vocally encompassing Franki Valli.
Outside of the main cast, Christopher Walken is the most standout in his role of Gyp DeCarlo. Walken is quite possibly the nicest, cuddliest, and most charming mobster ever here. It’s very much a Walken role, and he’s a delight to watch onscreen. This is the type of role Walken can do in his sleep, but it’s a role he clearly appears to be having fun with. Mike Doyle also does great work as the band’s music producer Crewe.
Overall, Eastwood does a great job here; but far too often it looks like he’s holding back in not wanting to make a true musical. Apparently, Eastwood wanted to make a Four Seasons biopic rather than a Broadway musical adaptation. As a result, the movie feels tonally off at times, such as a throwback driving sequence where the main characters are clearly driving in a stationary car in front of some sort of blue or green screen. Also, the movie quite often has that type of drab, trademark Eastwood look, which it really should not have. The songs are incorporated throughout the film, but Eastwood opts for shooting the songs in a more organic, concert-style setting within the story. I am ambivalent about this choice. On one hand, it was an interesting choice to provide a natural story with a reason for all the songs’ inclusion in the narrative. On the other hand, I really would not have minded more musical numbers like the finale. But Jersey Boys is worth seeing whether you are fan of musicals or not.
The 411: Jersey Boys provides a great snapshot of the original lineup for the life and times of the original Four Seasons. The film features great music and some great performances featuring a mostly unknown cast who do not bring baggage to the role that major stars. In terms of tone and style, I am not sure if Eastwood was the right choice for this material. He gets great performances from his actors, but the overall picture was missing a certain type of energy it has in the finale. Regardless, it's a great film and a great look at a classic American pop band.