Thanks to Roadshow Films we got to see ‘Jersey Boys’ before its national release. ‘Jersey Boys’ is director Clint Eastwood’s motion picture adaptation of the Tony Award-winning, Broadway hit musical of the same name. The story chronicles the formation and rise to stardom of the 60’s hit group The Four Seasons, whose members grew up on the tough streets of New Jersey, involved in petty crime and working for gangsters until their big break.
The movie stars the relatively unknown musical star John Lloyd Young as front-man Frankie Valli, Erich Bergen as the quartet’s main song writer Bob Gaudio, Michael Lomenda as bass man Nick Massi and Boardwalk Empire’s Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito, the self-appointed manager and could-have been gangster. Piazza is the only actor of the main four to have not played the role previously or with any former musical experience. Lloyd Young reprises his role as Valli, for which he won the 2006 Tony award for in the musical’s debut year on Broadway. Bergen played his same role for many years in the Las Vegas production and Canadian Lomenda is from the Toronto production.
Like the musical the film is broken into four parts, with each part of the story being told through the point of view of a different band member. Just like in the musical the “fourth wall” is broken with the narrating-actor talking directly to the audience and camera. The story opens with petty crook Tommy Devito’s version of events leading up to the band’s formation.
While running scams at a local bowling, DeVito’s friend Joe Pesci, yes the actual Joe Pesci, tells him about a 16-year old kid he has met who wrote the hit song “Short Shorts”. That teenager is Bob Gaudio who, upon hearing Valli sing, says he knew he had to write for that voice as he takes over the narration of the story. His section covers the years leading up to the famous “Sherry” and from here on the hits, albeit just in snippets, just keep coming.
The latter part of the film is the Frankie Valli story and the movie starts to slow down here. The upbeat mood takes an emotional and sad turn proving you cannot have it all. This sad turn of events does lead up to the first really strong musical moment, where we really get to see Lloyd Young’s powerful vocals with the performance of “Can’t Take my Eyes Off You”. The film then skips over the years until 1990 when the original four reunite for their induction into the Rock ’n’ roll Hall of Fame. While the film was made for a relatively modest $40 million, it doesn’t look like any of this was spent on the aging prosthetics make-up; unless Eastwood is doing this himself, in that case he has got slightly better since ’J Edgar’.
Most of the performances are good but not great, and considering there is no real star power to attract crowds there needed to be a big stand out performance in the mix. John Lloyd Young is very good as Frankie Valli, he sounds perfectly like him however he doesn’t look much like him, especially when the 38-year old actor is supposed to be 16-year old Valli. Christopher Walken is the only big name in the cast playing Gyp DeCarlo, a local mob boss that Tommy works for in the beginning of the film and who takes a shining to young Valli. While Walken steals most the scenes he is in, his character is more “Analyse This” than “Godfather”. The film really has the feeling it could have been something great but it just doesn’t get there.
Eastwood has stayed very true to the storyline of theatre version but instead of making a musical he has made a film about a music group. When approached for the project he was offered a film-adapted script, however he sourced a copy of the theatrical version and decided to go with that but cut back on the tunes – and that could be part of the problem. The songs are mere gap fillers instead of the high points they should have been, only a few of the songs get the full three minute plus treatment and the cast only let loose with the full song and dance routine once the film is over. This is one of the highlights and the only time where the tone of the film really feels perfect.
While Eastwood is a fantastic director at depicting the working class, ‘Jersey Boys’ needed more colour and jazz hands to make it stand alongside other great musical adaptations like ‘Chicago’ and ‘Hairspray’. The film may have actually worked better in the hands of someone like ‘Hairspray’-director Adam Shankman, who brings real fun to the screen and has a knack for capturing a bygone era. For authenticity of another extreme Martin Scorsese probably would have been another great choice, bringing the mobster aspect of the story to the forefront. Scorsese isn’t even a stranger to the musical genre having made New York New York and many a musical documentary over the years.
While Jersey Boys could have been more it is still a fairly great film and will be enjoyed by anyone who likes musical films or classic hits. There are a lot of good laughs and it’s a lot of fun making it well worth seeing in cinemas. And the unbelievably catchy songs will be stuck in your head days later.