In the early 1950’s, the immortal sound of New Jersey’s greatest son, Frank Sinatra, started giving way to the growing popularity of the new sound of rock and roll. And Francis Castellucio, another son of Jersey working in a barber shop by day and getting into much more at night, was about to jump right into it. The only ways out of the neighborhood were the military, the mob or becoming a star like Sinatra. The first time Castellucio, soon to be Frankie Valli, lets fly with his uniquely high pitched, baby-like tones it’s apparent he’s taking the third way.
Clint Eastwood’s biopic, “Jersey Boys,” instantly immerses us into Belleville, NJ in 1951 with a muted color atmosphere and spot-on look that seems to have sprung from the finest pages of “Life” magazine. Frankie (Tony award winner John Lloyd Young from the Broadway musical on which the film is based) is introduced as a not too bright teenager running around with some low rent hoods who also perform as a trio. Eventually, Frankie, Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) and burgeoning songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) become a new quartet ultimately billed as The Four Seasons.
Each of the four acts as narrator at times, smoothly turning from the action to address the camera with great theatrical effect, and tells things from his individual perspective. It’s a story filled with as much tragedy as success that examines the price of fame and leaves you to decide whether or not it is worth it. Time on the road and various love affairs destroy Frankie’s family, personality clashes, jealousies and distrust eat away at the group, and Tommy gets them into a pickle that requires the help of sympathetic mobster Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken).
This amazing cast of characters and their powerful story are the heart and soul of this stellar biopic that’s easily one of the year’s best movies. There is some terrific music and Young in some ways sounds even smoother than Valli himself. But he is also a very solid actor. And that’s a good thing because he is surrounded by a cast of superb performers who electrify the screen with effortless authenticity. Those expecting a frothy tribute concert won’t find that here. This movie is much meatier and uses the musical performances to great effect that leaves you wanting more.
Never fear, there is a big full company finale that’s straight out of musical theatre before the end credits. There’s also a fabulous final song sung simply under a streetlight. These moments beautifully recapture the innocence and love of four young guys with everything ahead of them before life got in the way. Eastwood reminds us why he is one of our finest directors with this taut, smooth flowing and gorgeously period evocative look at the triumphs and tragedies of lives helped, heightened and hurt by the spotlight. Oh, what a night!