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It was surprising that Clint Eastwood would direct an adaptation of the award winning-stage-show Jersey Boys, which tells the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. What we got was a standard musical bio-pic about the group.
In Belleville, New Jersey, 1951, Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young) is an apprentice barber with a high pitched singing voice. With his neighborhood friend Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), he renames himself Frankie Valli and with their group, they seek to find fame. As The Four Seasons finds success they become a pop sensation, but also suffer from the pitfalls of fame.
Jersey Boys is split into four acts with every member of the group having a chance to narrate the story, following the band during their rise, break-up and comeback. The characters break the fourth wall as they narrate the events and bridge the timeline as the movie is set over a long period, in the 50s and 60s. Some of the wall breaking is inventive as they talk to us while performing or acting normally in their lives. But Jersey Boys also has one of their characters offering a traditional voiceover, leading to the question, why did the filmmakers make that decision?
Jersey Boys is a typical bio-pic about musical performers, telling their origins, the rise to fame, their internal problems and break-up. It goes through the usual clichés and plotlines that we have all seen before and it’s easy to think of movies like Walk the Line. But there is strength with the relationship between the characters, particularly between Frankie and Tommy because of their upbringing in a rough area of New Jersey and both characters are a case of ‘you can take the boys out of New Jersey, but you can’t take the New Jersey out of the boys.’
Musically, all the songs are played in the context of concerts, rehearsals and gigs: no one bursts out into song simply for the sake of needing a musical number. It is not a jukebox musical of creating a plot around the songs. The songs serve a purpose as they illustrate the drive and the success of the band.
Due to the long time period, Jersey Boys tells a big story and has many threads explored in this sprawling movie. It is very much a bio-pic of broad brushstrokes, fitting in most of Frankie Valli’s musical career, the relationship within the group, particularly the relationship between Frankie and Tommy, the clash of views between the pair, Frankie’s personal life and the vices of fame. Due to this approach of trying to fit everything it can, it results in the direction and screenplay taking shortcuts of telling instead of showing us elements of the story, such as Frankie’s daughter being meant to be a good singer, but we never see it.
Young reprises his role from the stage play and he does a great job at replicating Valli’s very distinctive singing voice. The Four Seasons are played by lesser known actors: Piazza being the biggest name due to his TV work. All are strong in their performances and given a chance to shine due to the four act structure. All have their own characteristics, Frankie being the good boy lead astray and trying to live a quiet life, Tommy keeps being a New Jersey hustler despite his fame and Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) wants to be a professional songwriter despite the Jersey crew’s attitudes. Tommy is on a path of self-destruction, unable to control himself, leading himself and the band into trouble and Bob is very much a cultural outsider to the group.
Jersey Boys is a surprisingly comic movie due to the character interactions and Eastwood’s direction is competent as expected. A notable visual comic moment is when the camera pans up a New York building, showing different types of singers trying to get a record contract. There are noticeable changes in the set designing and costumes and there is a fun little cameo for eagle eyed viewers.
Jersey Boys is a competently made bio-pic that easily caters for an older, middle of the road audience. But it brings nothing new to the genre.