June 26, 2014
Jersey Boys (***) R
Clint Eastwood’s big screen adaptation of the Tony award winning stage musical Jersey Boys is one of the better films to come out of the summer movie season thus far and that’s sort of a surprise. Surprising because most recent film adaptations of successful stage musicals have met with poor to middling results. The reason that Jersey Boys succeeds where others fail is that the film version comes across, more or less, as a standard biopic of the rise and fall and rise of The Four Seasons instead of some stagey affair where characters stop in the middle of the story and burst into song for no discernible reason.
The songs in the film—and there are plenty of them—are integrated into the narrative and work in tandem with the story that director Eastwood is intent on telling. Sure, it plays fast and loose with the facts, as most films of the biopic genre tend to do, but there’s enough melodrama and winning period detail mixed in with the music that it somehow manages to work in spite of itself.
The film’s action begins in the 1950s where Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), a musician who works in future band mate Frankie Valli’s father’s barbershop, hopes to put a band together and find his way out of the drab existence of his rough and tumble neighborhood.
Scene from Jersey Boys
A regular customer at the barbershop, a mob kingpin known as Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken, the only marquee name in the film), senses little Frankie’s talent and puts his money, quite literally, on the boy. Tommy finally gives in and invites Frankie (John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony award as Frankie in the original Broadway show) to be a member of the group, along with Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda). The trio never seem to get anywhere until a young Joe Pesci (yes, that Joe Pesci) puts them in touch with songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen). Gaudio declares, after hearing little Frankie sing for the first time, that he must ‘write for that voice.’ He eventually does and the rest is history.
Eastwood retains something from the stage show that works effectively here. He allows each character to talk directly to the audience and tell the story as they see fit. This allows for the insertion of some much needed humor into the proceedings and livens things up when the dark trajectory of the group’s tumultuous personal lives overtakes the narrative from time to time. The film’s story also doesn’t shy away from the less attractive aspects of the characters and allows us to glimpse some of the personal tragedies that reared their ugly heads.
If there’s a weakness to be found it’s in the staging of some of the musical numbers. Eastwood isn’t known for this genre of film and the seams show from time to time. Also, the film’s narrative skips the group’s comeback in the mid 1970s entirely, which is a shame.
Still, these are minor quibbles about a film that’s one of the more arresting things in multiplexes now. If you’re tired of Marvel superheroes and want something rooted in the real world, Jersey Boys is a nice alternative.
Questions or comments? Write Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org.