Jersey Boys – Review by Frances Winston
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Michael Lamenda, Vincent Piazza, Christopher Walken
In cinemas June 20th
This big screen version of the hugely successful stage musical about the life and times of super group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons has been a long time coming with rumours abounding since 2010 that it was imminent. However, it has finally made it to cinemas directed by none other than the legendary Clint Eastwood and starring John Lloyd Young who was the original Frankie Valli in the stage version of the show. While he may not be familiar to movie goers he won a slew of awards for his past portrayal of the falsetto marvel and clearly Eastwood is hoping to bring some of that magic to this movie.
For those of you not familiar with the Four Seasons they are the group behind hits such as Sherry, Walk Like a Man, Big Girls Don’t Cry and Oh What A Night (December ’63). Kicking off in 1951 this opens with Tony DiVito taking a youngster called Frankie Castelluccio (later Valli) under his wing. Tony fancies himself as a Wiseguy and musician and in between brushes with the law he runs a musical trio with his friend Nick Massi. He eventually gives Frankie a chance to front the group and they are kept busy on the club circuit. They don’t enjoy hit records until the introduction of Bob Gauido, a young songwriter and singer, into the line up.
As the band achieve huge success they all begin to feel the effects of their huge popularity. When Tony gets into trouble with a loan shark it leads to a break down in the band and Frankie and Bob find themselves working to pay off his debt having had Jersey mob member Gyp DeCarlo intervene with the illegal lender on their behalf. Going back to his roots playing tiny club gigs Frankie eventually clears what he owes but it coincides with the tragic death of his daughter. In an attempt to recover from his grief he and Bob record what at the time was a progressive song You’re Just To Good To Be True and suddenly his career is revitalised.
Nothing I have written here constitutes a spoiler as in recent years the bands history has been well documented following the success of the stage show. Here Clint has taken a juke box musical and managed to make it a movie about four guy’s relationships that just happens to feature music (and in one meta moment a clip of a Clint Eastwood film!) Yes the music is there – sounding as catchy as ever – but he has very much focused on the characters here. There is no denying that their story is interesting. Although they were portrayed as innocent to their record buying public almost all of them had criminal records and had spent time in prison and they had a lot of interaction with the mafia. Their personal interactions are also the stuff of legend with the New Jersey code of loyalty and honour underpinning their friendships and working relationships.
Young does a good job as Frankie but there are issues with the passage of time. He just about gets away with the fact that he is supposed to be 16 at the start of the film but by the time Frankie is supposed to be in his forties he still looks completely baby faced which is very disjointing for an audience. This is true of all the characters who only really get aged up for the final scene which sees them inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Also, there have been liberties taken with the groups timeline. Erich Bergen, Michael Lamenda and Vincent Piazza give good performances as the other three members of the group but unfortunately the peripheral characters such as their producer Bob Crewe and even Frankie’s doomed daughter Francine are not developed fully and this does detract from a viewers enjoyment.
This is almost like Goodfellas The Musical at times (in fact Goodfellas actor and childhood friend Joe Pesci was the one who introduced the group to Gauido) but you always feel it could go deeper and darker. It is very entertaining and good fun and you will be singing the songs for hours afterwards but the story dips in the middle somewhat and it only picks back up at the end when they perform together again. Of course as with all these Jukebox Musical type shows we are treated to an all singing all dancing cast medley at the end but to be honest it was unnecessary here and while it works in theatre it doesn’t have the same impact on film.
Not just for fans of The Four Seasons or musicals this is a toe tapping at times hard(ish) hitting drama about four guys from the wrong side of the tracks made good that will have you singing along. It rushes through some serious issues and could have been grittier but it won’t disappoint as an entertaining slice of music history scattered with some memorable songs.