‘Jersey Boys’ is not a bad film. It hits the right notes with the music. Based on a hit Broadway musical, director Clint Eastwood adapts the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons to the big screen. It is at its best when the group takes the stage and Frankie belts out hit songs like “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Can’t Take My Eyes off You.” The problem is the tone of the film. If you’re hoping for a fun musical like ‘Grease,’ this is not it. It’s actually more of a serious melodrama than a musical. It will undoubtedly appeal to an older audience but the strong language will keep it from being good entertainment for the whole family.
The opening sequence looks like it is straight out of the film ‘Goodfellas.’ Reminiscent of that mob classic, the characters break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience. Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) is a two-bit hustler and the band leader. He is buddies with Frankie Valli (played by John Lloyd Young who received a Tony Award for his role on stage). Tommy sees the talent in Frankie’s amazing falsetto voice. He knows that Frankie is his meal ticket out of Jersey. Tommy is a gofer for mob boss Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken). Gyp also sees Frankie’s immense vocal talent and takes him under his wing like a father figure.
The scenes showing Frankie’s upbringing are meant to be funny. Frankie is a good kid who comes from a hard-working family. They even eat spaghetti together at the dinner table. The problem is that the tone of the story is all over the place. One minute it’s humorous and then the next minute the narrative shifts to gravely serious. It’s as if Eastwood wants it both ways. He wants to make a musical and mob film at the same time. He seems out of his element with ‘Jersey Boys.’ Eastwood has done his best work with gritty dramas like ‘Unforgiven,’ ‘Mystic River’ and ‘Million Dollar Baby.’ It would be interesting to see what Martin Scorsese would have done with this material. Nobody makes a mob film better than Scorsese.
The story actually has another connection to ‘Goodfellas.’ One of Scorsese’s favorite actors Joe Pesci (played by Joseph Russo) grew up in the same neighborhood as the Four Seasons. He is responsible for introducing the band to songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) who shot to fame with the hit song “Short Shorts.” Once producer Bob Crewe comes on board, the only thing missing is a hit song. After countless rejection, all the pieces finally fall into place when Gaudio writes the first number one hit, “Sherry,” 15 minutes before a group rehearsal in 1962. In the studio, Crewe yells to his engineer, “We’re gonna double Frankie’s voice. It’s gonna explode off the radio!” The Four Season’s rise to stardom is the best moment of the film. Eastwood captures the excitement as they take the stage on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “American Bandstand.”
Without giving away too much of the plot, the band goes through the highs and lows of fame on the road. They have to deal with bad motels, broken marriages and money problems. The women in Frankie’s life aren’t given much to do but complain about him being on the road too much. The poor guy is trying to do the right thing and provide for his family. When he comes home to visit, his wife Mary (Renee Marino) is relegated to playing the alcoholic wife. Frankie must also deal with a daughter who runs away from home. He promises to help her with her singing career and cut a demo song. These are some of the weakest scenes in the film. It’s difficult being invested into his family’s problems when they get very little screen time.
The musical finale looks like a Broadway number when the entire cast takes to the streets. The only problem is that it’s a part of the closing credits. It’s too bad the rest of the film never reaches the same amount of playfulness. Nonetheless, the catchy pop music of The Four Seasons is guaranteed to appeal to the older generation. ‘Jersey Boys’ official trailer http://youtu.be/6tC1yOUvvMo.