IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 128 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
1951 New Jersey. Frankie Valli is a good Italian-American kid but his friend Tommy DeVito is just the opposite. Both are connected to local mobster Gyp DeCarlo. Taking Valli under his wing, Tommy puts together a small time band but they only manage mediocre returns while also moonlighting as juvenile delinquents. This changes with the arrival of Bob Gaudio, a golden goose of a singer/song writer whose epiphany changes the band’s name from The Four Lovers to The Four Seasons. Then, with the addition of bass guitarist and singer Nick Massi, Sherry, their first song as a band, becomes a hit and the group is instantly catapulted into nationwide fame….
The muted reception given to Jersey Boys, considering the popularity of the stage musical it’s based on [a good example of that depressingly popular thing known as the Jukebox Musical which seems to have taken over Broadway and the West End] is surprising, though the story of The Four Seasons is perhaps a strange subject for a musical considering that the group, despite their popularity and the greatness of many of their songs, weren’t really innovators and that the story is very familiar ‘rags to riches’, ‘rise and fall’, ‘price of fame’ stuff. The film is a solid, decent biopic, but director Clint Eastwood, for which this material may seem like an odd choice though he did make Bird in 1989, doesn’t always seem sure what to do with the show. For the most part, he decides to tone down the more typically ‘musical-ly’ elements, such as removing or replacing some songs sung by characters, but he also gives us some of the most obvious sets I’ve seen in ages, retains the show’s device of having the main characters narrate bits in turn, and keeps the typical big dance number at the end. Add to this the somewhat muted, low-key feel, and one can’t help thinking that Clint was perhaps not the right director for this, though he does cleverly turn the usual near-black and white [lots of white] colour scheme he likes to use for period films into a brighter, more varied palette as Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons begin to hit it big.
The first third of Jersey Boys, replete with most of the typical Italian-American movie cliches [and one huge mistake – was The Blob really out in 1951?] doesn’t really convince and seems unsure of itself, though the film does get more involving as it goes on, and, while there are few surprises in the story which takes in band rivalries, financial crises, personal tragedy and Christopher Walken owning every scene he’s in as a gang boss, at the end it seems like you’ve seen a far better film than at first seemed apparent. John Lloyd Young’s voice is a little grating at first, and there’s a strange version of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, perhaps the most glorious song in the whole film, where the horn and saxophone section play every note too late and an odd running line in the second verse, ruining what I imagine was a great moment on stage, but most of the music does sound fine and you may be surprised at how many hits the Four Seasons or Valli as a solo artist were responsible for. Not a total success, and with some glaring inaccuracies, such as a major character dying thirteen years before it actually happened, but just about good enough in the end, and maybe my mixed feelings about the Jukebox Musical, which usually seems to me to be little more than a glorified tribute or karaoke act, didn’t help in my case.