The movie version of the musical of the same name, Jersey Boys, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel here, and director Clint Eastwood does a solid job and even manages to retain a little bit of that musical flair but it’s not altogether brilliant, nor is it terrible.
We’re given the fairly routine storyline of a bunch of young guys who get in to trouble, end up straightening out to form a band, become successful only to have that jeopardised but then eventually rise above it again. It’s a cookie-cutter type plot and it follows that path all the way through with no real deviations. The most interesting element used is when we have our characters speaking to us directly to narrate parts of the story from their point of view, which gives us a little bit of colour since it’s not all from one person’s standpoint. It’s a technique often used in theatre and it sometimes works well here, except when it’s jarringly used as an obvious device to move the plot forward.
Eastwood has opted to use three of the original Broadway cast members in his film, which seems to make it feel like an ‘if it ain’t broke’ sort of scenario and works in both positive and negative ways. John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli (aka Castelluccio) Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio and Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi were all part of the stage cast, whilst Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito is the newcomer having previously done a stint on HBO series Boardwalk Empire. Young comes with a Tony Award under his belt for his Broadway stint and manages to sing and swing his way through this film. For personal taste, he doesn’t quite nail Valli’s singing vocals and distinct falsetto for me, everything else about his performance was commendable though. I was more impressed by the quiet reservation and professional sensibilities of Bergen’s portrayal of Gaudio. He comes across as an unobtrusive and natural leader, and manages to steer both himself and Valli through the pitfalls of the music industry business. But it’s the hot-headed DeVito played by Piazza and his thicker than blood relationship with Valli that maintains the drive and attention of this film. Mike Doyle as their producer co-writer Bob Crewe is wonderfully flamboyant and manages to steal almost all of his scenes that he’s in. Christopher Walken as Gyp DeCarlo the Jersey mobster kingpin who employs DeVito and ends up bailing the group out of their financial woes is understatedly coy and potentially underutilised however this may be due to members of his estate specifically requesting a more positive portrayal of his character.
The screenplay by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice who also handled the stage version again results in the film not differing too far from the theatre version. The main thing that you notice from a story perspective is that there’s not much else to focus on other than our four main characters and their journey to stardom. Admittedly the fashion, makeup and hairstyles and visuals of the film all give it that distinctly 60’s tinge but there’s no other appearances by any other notable events that happened during this era to give us a feeling of what else was going on in their lives. Even when we get to see Valli struggling to maintain a fatherly relationship with his daughters and contend with the life of a touring musician, it feels like it’s but a glimpse in comparison to what we’re shown about the performing side of his life. And there is very little shown of what the other members have to contend with from a personal standpoint, other than DeVito and his money woes that cause the band to splinter.
But if we’re being realistic here it’s the music and the songs that are the real stars. Films like this serve to remind us exactly why we love these songs, and how they’ve had such a profound impact on people. Their popularity stems from an escapist desire and the need to have something fun to distract you from your normal life. The film manages to safely disperse the songs in a manner so that they not only fit the timeline of the band but how they resonate with particular moments in the band members lives. And you will be compelled to toe-tap in your seats through the course of the movie as song after song gets a spin. It’s astounding how many hits the Four Seasons had, from ‘Sherry’ which was written by Gaudio in around fifteen minutes, to ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’, ‘Walk Like A Man’ and ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’. Not only were they chart-toppers but they shaped a generation of artists to come after them.
For those young and old who are fans of the Jersey Boys musical they will surely enjoy Eastwood’s film interpretation. All of our cast do a fantastic job of their roles with the limited scope that they have to work with when it comes to the script. This isn’t one of the better biopics but it’s enjoyable enough to watch on a Sunday afternoon.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 134 minutes
Jersey Boys is released nationally 3rd July through Roadshow Pictures