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Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys adapts the massively popular and award winning Broadway show of the same name and even calls upon some of the cast members from different productions of the show. With the music of The Four Seasons powering the film, Eastwood is happy just to translate the musical onto the big screen with very minor changes. Jersey Boys is a fairly straightforward but, well-made and fun, biopic with a solid cast and a fantastic soundtrack.
Image courtesy of Jennifer Graylock/INFphoto.com
Jersey Boys is a sort-of biopic/musical of the type we see about famous musicians and musical groups all the time. It chronicles the rise of Frankie Valli(John Lloyd Young), Tommy DeVito(Vincent Piazza), Bob Gaudio(Erich Bergen), and Nick Massi(Michael Lomenda) as The Four Seasons and the eventual separation of the group. By adapting the Broadway show, the film faces a couple of challenges that it doesn't quite overcome. In a musical, a large part of the entertainment value is experiencing these talented performers singing right in front of you. There’s an energy that’s lost when you translate that onto a film screen, especially when your brain knows that you’re listening to an audio track recorded in a sound booth. The other problem is that the film is strangely paced and somehow manages to feel both too long and not long enough. Jersey Boys clocks in at 134 minutes and yet some story beats pass by too fast or aren't given enough time to have weight. These would be major problems if not for the strength of the cast and, of course, the music.
John Lloyd Young originated the Frankie Valli role on Broadway and he does a great job here. His singing is really fantastic and it’s obvious how easily he slips into the role and how comfortable he feels as Frankie. The standout is Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito. Early on in the film,f Piazza and Young aren't given much more to do other than embody lazy Italian-American stereotypes and occasionally sing. Piazza brings Tommy to life in a way that’s both specific to that neighborhood in Jersey oft mentioned in the film and also universal enough that we all immediately know who Tommy is. Everyone knows that guy who’s fun and charming but also a bit of a screw-up. It’s easy to see why Frankie would join up with him as a teenager looking for a way out of their neighborhood. Their relationship serves as the focus for most of the film and the slow deterioration of their friendship is the strongest dramatic element of the film. Young and Piazza do great work portraying the way Frankie and Tommy depend on each other to succeed at first. Tommy’s anger at the way Frankie gradually depends on him less and less ultimately leads to the big problems. Piazza’s performance shines as you see different events chip away at Tommy’s pride. Bergen and Lomenda do solid work as Bob and Nick respectively. Bergen does a good job showing the differences between Bob and the rest of the group and Lomenda has a terrifically funny scene in the second act of the film.
One of the main drawing points of Jersey Boys is the music. The music is as spectacular as to be expected. The musical moments are largely tied to various performances by Frankie and the group. We see small club shows, Bob’s audition, concerts, and various television appearances made by The Four Seasons while they were in their prime. The songs are as great as they've ever been and are deployed well in the film. Going into the film I had only a passing familiarity with the music of The Four Seasons and I thoroughly enjoyed the songs I wasn't familiar with. Young does a solid vocal impersonation of Valli's fine tuned falsetto which continues to be a unique sound decades later.
I've seen and heard a few mentions of this film being for an “older” crowd simply based on the era in which The Four Seasons enjoyed the most success and it would be a shame to dismiss this movie over something as silly as that. I had plenty of fun with the story and the film and I was born the same year that Frankie Valli and the rest of the boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame(you do the math). Jersey Boys isn't revolutionary, particularly if you've seen the stage production, but it has a capable cast and some genuinely fun moments all backed by stellar music. If you’re looking for a fun time at the movies this summer you could do a lot worse.