A Songbook For All Seasons With The Jersey Boys
In 1950s New Jersey, a young man named Frank Castelluccio studies to be a barber. Some of his peers, though, think he has a distinctive, high-pitched singing voice and should pursue a career in music with them. He joins these peers in a show, and a new career begins for the barber's apprentice in Jersey Boys. Frank, before long, takes the stage name of Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young). Backing his voice were the two men who most wanted Frankie in their band - lead guitarist Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) and bassist Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda). They went through name changes and a small following around their residence in Belleville for years. Criminal mischief even intervened in the band's fortunes. When Tommy's brother decides to leave the band permanently, Tommy finds a promising replacement with the help of friend (and future Oscar winnng actor) Joe Pesci (Joseph Russo). That lead brings a young singer and songwriter from Bergenfield named Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), who's both successful and articulate. Bob takes an immediate liking to Frankie, but Tommy and Nick aren't as impressed. Bob gets a spot in the group only when Frankie threatens to leave. Following an unsuccessful gig, the band takes the name that eventually leads to their success - The Four Seasons.
After sending demos of their singing to New York producers, they get a bite from Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle), who hires them as background singers. After a year of singing background for others, they want to know when Crewe will let them be the lead on a recording. Crewe thinks they're not strong enough to be leads, which challenges the band to prove the producer wrong. Bob gets to work on some songs for his mates, and Crewe likes the music enough to let them record these songs, and a chain of success begins for the band. That success, though, comes with a price. Frankie's marriage to the former Mary Delgado (Renee Marino) comes apart, and especially takes a toll on their daughter Francine (played as a teen by Freya Tingley). Tommy, meanwhile, has gone deeply into debt with Norm Waxman (Donnie Kuhl), who fronted Tommy money for recoring costs and gambling. They meet at the home of mob boss Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken), a band fan, to work out a payment arrangement. Frankie agrees to repay Waxman, but that comes at a cost to the Four Seasons.
Jersey Boys, a musical loosely based on the real story of the band, is a decent celebration of the music of a quartet now enshrined in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who wrote the story for the original stage production of Jersey Boys, return to adapt their writing to the screen. The narrative, which alternates among the band members, is sometimes amusing, but contains nothing that hasn't been said about New Jersey life, Italian-American culture, or life amongst mobsters. Four Seasons fans will recognize that while the majority of the film is set in the fifties and sixties, the filmmakers have included Four Seasons and Valli hits from the seventies in the movie's timeline. I found myself surprised when I learned that Clint Eastwood, a known jazz aficionado, had decided to direct this film. While he did a respectable job here, I miss the cynicism and the reflection his movies so often include. The ending, which involves the cast looking the way they did circa 1955 and singing Four Seasons songs, is simply ridiculous. With a story filled with the problems of life in the music business and dealings with the mob, I wish Eastwood had somehow managed to put more of his touch on the film instead of just making a movie musical.
Young, who also played Valli in a stage version of Jersey Boys, is very good reprising his Tony-winning role as the lead singer. When Frankie committed to music, he did so completely. The relationship that grew between him and Bob became one of mutual admiration and benefit. Yet, he also has to deal with family problems that affected relationships between himself and his first wife and his daughter Francine. Piazza, the only member of the film quartet to not have played his role in a stage production of Jersey Boys, is solid as Tommy, the wise-cracking wiseguy who finds he's not as slick as he thinks when his problems catch up to him. Bergen and Lomenda also do nice work as the chief lyricist and the bassist. Walken, though, shows why he's such a great character actor as Gyp DeCarlo. Gyp and the Four Seasons run in different worlds, and each knows the other is different from most people in Belleville. In an early scene, a couple of wannabe hoodlums trick Frankie, and Gyp confronts them. He warns them to stay away from the singer, yet tells them they'd better catch Frankie if they see him falling. His reaction to Frankie's agreement to settle Tommy's debts catches Gyp by surprise, but he remains supportive and concerned. Look quickly for a clip of Eastwood from his Rawhide days.
Jersey Boys has about as much truth about the Four Seasons as The Buddy Holly Story has about its title subject. Both films, though, did a good job of celebrating the music, even when the original tracks are not at the forefront. Success didn't come easily for the Four Seasons, nor did it come without some major losses. They also left a legacy of hit records and a still-enduring fan base. Jersey Boys is not a great musical or music biopic, but its performances make the movie a little bit better than average.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Jersey Boys 3 stars. Between Sinatra and Springsteen came this quartet.