Dir: Clint Eastwood
Starring: John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Vincent Piazza, Michael Lomenda, and Christopher Walken
From Warner Bros.
By: Monte Yazzie (www.thecodafilms.com)
The Broadway smash “Jersey Boys” has been dazzling audiences for nearly ten years. The musical, getting the big screen treatment from the capable hands of director Clint Eastwood, is based on the tumultuous life of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. Known for standards like “Sherry” and “Walk Like A Man”, Valli grew up in rough neighborhood with equally rough friends but was always guided towards music. Eastwood shaped “Jersey Boys” into a film that unfortunately lacked the flair and energy of the stage performance but instead added some character depth for a nostalgic experience.
Eastwood is an avid fan of music, which can be seen by the numerous music documentaries he has produced and the addition of composed music he has created for his films. The 84-year-old icon has done nearly everything in film, recently his directorial catalog has been filled with character driven films within a specific time period. The common thread however has always surrounded people making difficult choices in a complicated world. While the decision for Eastwood to direct a musical for the first time may seem odd, the narrative themes in “Jersey Boys” are all right up Eastwood’s alley.
Francesco Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young), who would later change his name to Frankie Valli, grew up on the mean streets of Belleville, New Jersey. Getting in trouble with the mob or joining the military, as narrator Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) explains, were the only two occupations for Jersey youth in 1951, unless you were a talented singer like Frankie. Tommy, a handsome con artist looking for a quick turn, is the leader of the band known as The Four Lovers. Frankie, who has found some singing cred with a local mob boss (Christopher Walken), is brought on as lead singer. With the addition of clean-cut songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), the band finds fame. Though the road to success for the newly christened Four Seasons is filled with struggle.
Eastwood striped “Jersey Boys” down in musical numbers and included more character depth than the stage version. These changes were complimentary for the screen, unfortunately for those familiar with the stage version the alterations in pacing and mood will be sorely disappointing. Eastwood’s mix of gangster film tropes and commentary on the “American Dream” were interesting and worked well when the film shifted into more serious territory. Having many of the stage actors reprise their roles, which included live singing performances on camera, gave the film exceptional musical quality. Still, the film had difficulty changing gears from feel good musical to focused drama and some of the deliberate pacing choices strained the film from scene to scene. For a musical there was a significant lack of score, which was unusually considering there was so much to utilize. It was the music, both the familiarity of the classic hits and moving performances, which has kept the stage production alive for so long. Eastwood, moving the focus away from those qualities, struggled to find an identity for the film.
“Jersey Boys” on screen may not have the audience dancing in the aisles like the stage production but it did bring about the love and nostalgia music invokes. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons may not be as identifiable as they once were, but their music featured in this film is still recognizable and uplifting.
3.00 out of 5.00