Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Vincent Piazza, Michael Lomenda, Johnny Cannizzaro, Christopher Walken, Steve Schirripa
Written by: (Based on the musical book) Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
Running Time: 134 mins
Release date: 20th June 2014
About 30 minutes into Clint Eastwood’s screen version of the smash hit Broadway and West End Show, Jersey Boys, I forgot that I was watching an adaptation of a musical and it wasn’t until the very end, when the cast and company perform Oh What A Night! that the connection with the stage is made. This is more like a biopic in the same tradition as Ray or Walk The Line, with Eastwood’s leisurely approach to directing to ease it along.
1950’s Jersey and Tommy DeVito is a small time hood working for mob boss Gyp DeCarlo. His best friend, Frankie, is a trainee hairdresser but with the voice of an angel and while Tommy struggles with a minor group (in between his time in jail) he finds a chance for to make it big in Frankie. The group lack something until song writer Bob Gaudio enters into their lives and The Four Seasons are born. With domestic problems, underhanded deals and Tommy’s money difficulties, can this successful group with three number ones and a string of hits under their belt, really carry on?
One of the things you forget while watching this, is how successful Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons really were. Listening to song after song, recognising almost all of them, it’s a wonder that they lasted as long as they did, considering how big they were. Eastwood’s film slowly tells us the ups and downs of this group of young men from the wrong side of the tracks who found the right side.
I’m not too sure that Eastwood is the right man behind the lens. Not that he shouldn’t be making biopics about musicians. He did a brilliant job with the Charlie Parker story and Bird, just that fans of the show will be expecting the same level of energy and attack and there are moments when the film does lumber along, allowing plenty of time for the characters and friendships to develop. He does have fun with the material, using the same elements as in the stage production of letting the characters break the fourth wall and speak to the audience, a neat little narrative trick that works well.
At the end it’s the music that is important and Eastwood, who is a huge fan of music, knows exactly how to deliver. The staging of the numbers are seamless and this is where you forget it’s a musical, as we witness the group either performing in the studio or on stage. Never once do the characters spontaneously burst into song as you would find in most traditional musical shows. Here they are all relevant yet don’t necessarily move the drama on. We can appreciate them more.
The performances from the four leads are impeccable, especially John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli, who has to take a naive 16-year-old boy into manhood and an overnight success. With his almost carbon copy voice of Mr Valli, he carries the film brilliantly. There’s a nice cameo from Christopher Walken as Gyp DeCarlo. Eastwood has the good sense to let Walken do his thing that he does so well.
What was so refreshing was their story dealt with friendship, remembering where you came from and the bond you have over people, instead of following the usual clichés of a musical biopic, that of drugs, drink and wife-beating. These guys never forgot where they came from and respected that.
Jersey Boys is a fine, solid piece of entertainment that will have your toes tapping and a yearning to listen to The Four Seasons once you’ve left the cinema (or even want to see the stage show). It’s not perfect and some may find the pacing a little too leisurely but with those songs playing out, you will leave with a smile.