Jersey Boys is a biopic in all of the best and worst ways possible. Hell, it’s a four-way biopic, detailing the lives of the members of the popular 1960s rock group The Four Seasons. Based on the popular musical of the same name and directed by Clint Eastwood, Jersey Boys seeks to tell your standard dizzying highs and terrifying lows that come with being a rock star, Jersey style of course.
The movie is passable, sure to be enjoyed on airplanes and boring Saturday nights. Things begin with a young Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young), a seemingly sweet teenager with a lovely voice. Frankie lives in a Catholic house that displays a picture of the pope and Sinatra on the same level. He also runs with a crew that is prone to coming and going in prisons. His apparent best friend Tommy (Vincent Piazza) is chief among this group, but he also encourages Frankie. In between lines about how to pick up dames, Tommy reminds Frankie to practice his singing.
Eventually, Frankie and Tommy form a band that sings in various New Jersey lounges. They do well, yet can’t breakout of being small change. Fortunes change, new band members come along and, as things go, The Four Seasons go from nobodies to the multiple time chart-toppers.
As happens with the biopic business, especially ones about musicians, Jersey Boys plays out as kind of been there, done that. Are there drugs? Yep. Women hired to have sex with the innocent guy? Definitely. How about some infighting? Damn straight. There’s also a catalogue of stupendous songs for the foursome to belt out at various times, each one a toe-tapper and presented expertly by Eastwood. When The Four Seasons in this film are just starting out, it’s all about that unique Valli voice, though eventually the whole troop is an energetic joy. For every single time the film falls flat due to a lack of depth in the characters, a standard when you cram decades into hours, we still have those songs.
The performances are largely solid. Piazza is an engaging presence, giving the big talk about his business and worldly know-how a shade of insecurity and jealousy. Piazza nails the bubbling unhappiness that plays out as his grasp over Frankie’s direction in life dissipates. Christopher Walken has a towering presence as a mob-boss the boys occasionally turn to that is always a welcome element to the proceedings. Young’s Valli is not as much of a homerun. Young can sing the part, there is no doubt there. His more dramatic beats, admittedly hampered by a screenplay that doesn’t flesh the man out, don’t reach for as many notes as that voice. He squints or shouts and not a lot else.
Eastwood presents it all in his standard fashion; quiet and simply. The occasional comedic divergences click appropriately and the handful of fourth-wall breaking asides its characters make transition smoothly. Altogether, it’s a movie one won’t regret watching, nor is it worth going out of one’s way to catch up with.
Jersey Boys opens in Seattle tomorrow.