Inspired by the hit Broadway and West End musical, “Jersey Boys” tells the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons – from their beginnings on the streets of New Jersey and their initial break with “Sherry”, to their off stage problems and their eventual break up and reconciliation.
“Clint Eastwood??? Directing a musical???” Well, before you turn away from this review, I’ll correct that thought. “Jersey Boys” (the film) is nothing like a stage musical (I have to admit that I have yet to see the stage version of “Jersey Boys”). In fact, the film version, inspired by the musical, isn’t a musical at all, it’s a story driven biopic that features music within it. (Okay, there is one number right at the end which you could consider as betraying its musical roots, but it’s a great way to round off the film),
Eastwood, along with scriptwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, use the musical source material, including hits such as “Sherry”, “Walk Like A Man”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Too Good To Be True” and “Who Loves You”, and adds a touch of “Goodfellas” to make the story interesting to both Four Seasons fans and people who haven’t heard of them by have heard their music. There are also comedic incidents such as Frankie getting involved in the theft of a safe alongside eventual fellow band member Tommy DeVito and the appearance (and the use of a certain well known “Goodfellas” catchphrase) by the characterised version of Joe Pesci, emotional charged incidents such as Valli’s separation from his wife and the death of his daughter, and tense episodes such as Tommy’s splurging of the band’s funds to support their opulent lifestyle and their break up.
One really clever device that Eastwood uses to drive the story is to break the “fourth wall” and have the four leads provide their respective characters thoughts and story background directly to the audience.
The four leads are fantastic – both as musical performers and as actors.
John Lloyd Young, the original actor to portray Frankie Valli in the stage version of “Jersey Boys”, grabs your attention with his vocal range as he reprises the role for this film. Alongside this, he gives a well balanced performance by portraying Valli as a combination of musician, a man who is on the fringes of being sucked into a criminal background early in his life and a man who tries to be, but is unable to succeed in balancing the twin roles of family man and celebrity. It’s to Young’s credit that he also manages to effectively portray Valli from 16 years of age up to his late fifties.
Vincent Piazza gives a great portrayal in the role of Tommy DeVito. One the one hand, the character is a product of the environment in which he exists – a wannabe wiseguy and hustler – whilst on the other hand he’s a dreamer who wants his crack at the big time. The two roles serves as the catalyst for making Tommy both one of the film’s heroes alongside the rest of The Four Seasons and the film’s anti-hero, bordering on “villain”, as the debts he accrues spiral out of control.
Michael Lomenda gives a nicely understated performance in the role of Nick Massi. This is a both a character driven plot point as his “act” gets attention with Nick’s frustrations at the band’s direction come to light along with being seen as The Four Seasons version of “Ringo” and it is a careful wider plotting point as the audience is pulled to the Frankie’s conflicts of relationships with his long-time friendship with Tommy and the more business driven relationship with fellow band member Bob Gaudio.
Erich Bergen portrays Bob as a guy who not only has a lot of talent but a great deal of business savvy right from the off when he demands both a quarter of the band’s earnings and intellectual property rights to any music he creates. The character of Bob is the other source of conflict within the film through the side deals that he makes on behalf of himself and Frankie – leading to a conflict between the “head” of business and the “heart” of being loyal to your friends.
Beyond the four, you do get two very notable performances. Mike Doyle gives a colourful and flamboyant performance in the role of The Four Seasons producer, and Gaudio’s muscial collaborator, Bob Crewe. However, any of the co-stars would have to admit that the show is stolen by the film’s only real notable established “star” in Christopher Walken.
Walken gives a well humoured performance in the role of mob boss Gyp DeCarlo whilst providing the character with a patriarchal role to Frankie along with being a guy who can “get the job done”.
Whilst it may not have you dancing in the aisles like its stage counterpart, the film incarnation of “Jersey Boys” is a well written, well directed and, most importantly, well acted film.
In a summer that held a lot of promise, it’s strange that my favourite films (“The Fault In Our Stars”, “Jersey Boys” and “Next Goal Wins”) don’t involve big guns, loud explosions or heroic leads – they are simply films about people and what makes them tick and I will be looking to get to see the stage version of “Jersey Boys” on a future trip to the West End.
Rating: Get in the Queue