A lot of people haven’t really been that ecstatic for Jersey Boys, the film adaptation of the massive Broadway hit directed by Clint Eastwood. People have argued that Eastwood is the worst choice to direct a film like this, because his style is too bruiting and dark, which I find to be a bit ridiculous. But, people have their opinions, and I have mine. I’ve been pretty excited to see Eastwood’s take on Jersey Boys for a number of reasons, because number one, it’s Clint Eastwood. The man has not only acted in some of the greatest films ever put to screen, but he’s also directed some of my all time favorite films, and his bleak and subtle way of shooting and framing his films have had a major impact on how I’ve tried to attempt making a film here and there. Number two is that I love that era of music. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons were arguably the last great group of that swooners style of music, similar to the Everly Brothers and others from the Phil Spector era of music. But I never saw the Broadway show, which I hear is fantastic. But the film version of Jersey Boys has been out for about a week or two now, and the word of mouth has been very soft on the film. I’ve heard from many that the film doesn’t know if it wants to be a musical or a straightforward biopic. I’m here to set the record straight on what this film is, because I just happened to have seen it.
Jersey Boys, if you haven’t understood yet, is the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ rise to fame and fall to grace, and so on. The film takes place in, you guessed it, Belleville, New Jersey, where all of these guys grew up together. Frankie, played by John Lloyd Young, who won the Tony for playing Valli in the Broadway production, is recruited by his lifelong friend Tommy Devito, played by Vincent Piazza, to join his musical group as the lead singer. More and more things fall into place until the group then goes by the name of The Four Seasons, and the rest is history.
Eastwood directed a script by Marshall Brickman, whose best known for his collaborations with Woody Allen on such films as Annie Hall and Manhattan, and Rick Elice, who wrote the book to the musical of Jersey Boys along with Brickman. So I assume that the film to stage comparison is pretty similar, but I wouldn’t know since I haven’t seen the show, but I do hear that it’s coming to Austin in a few months. But what I really admired about this film is that it’s not your straight forward musical where characters at an instant break into song and dance. In fact, the film does feel more like a biopic rather than a musical, as the only truly musical moments are when The Four Seasons are playing on stage and in the studio. I liked that because I’ve never been a fan of movie musicals, because they’re so hard to nail at times. I love The Phantom of the Opera, I’ve seen in three times and once on Broadway, but I think the movie stinks. I never saw Les Miserables on stage, and the film stunk too.
But I did like the straightforward biopic approach to how the film was told, and it’s mainly because Clint Eastwood does straightforward so well. The man has never been known to go crazy with his camera work or editing, as all of his films feel very small and intimate, which help give off some very powerful and rewarding emotional feelings. Granted, Jersey Boys isn’t as heavy-handed as something like Million Dollar Baby or Mystic River, but you get what I mean. The show and the film has been compared to films like Goodfellas where the characters in the film break the fourth wall and start talking to the audience about certain parts of the story, and of course that got my attention quickly since Goodfellas is my favorite film of all time, and since Eastwood is very good friends with Martin Scorsese, I knew that Eastwood wouldn’t directly rip off his friends film, but rather do something in the vein of that film (ironically, the story of the Four Seasons has a connection with Joe Pesci, who won an Oscar for his role in Goodfellas). And that’s what makes this film a bit of a gem, is that the fourth wall breaks aren’t sporadic and unnecessary, but the come up at the perfect time and they also pop up when it’s necessary, and it’s often to prove a point, and at times it’s also pretty funny.
But what I really loved about this film is that Eastwood and the real Frankie Valli, who was very involved with the production of the show and the film, nailed the casting of these young actors all of whom, with the exception of Piazza, have either performed in the original Broadway production or touring versions of the show. Lloyd Young’s portrayal of Valli is really terrific, and Piazza, who you will probably know for his work on the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, is also another standout in this really terrific ensemble. You also get a nice supporting role from Christopher Walken as a father figure to the Four Seasons, who happens to be a gangster. And since this was a New Jersey set and (somewhat) shot film, we have some actors who were on The Sopranos who make brief appearances in the film, like Steve Schirripa as a barber and Kathrine Narducci as Frankie’s mother. That’s always a nice surprise to see those actors in other projects.
If I had some complaints with the film, it starts to drag a bit toward the end of the film, and they never really go into depth about the Four Season’s fall from grace publicly, and how The Beatles sort of ruined their success in the mid-60’s. But, other than that, I really enjoyed Jersey Boys. I think a lot of these critics that haven’t really enjoyed this film adaptation are a little mad, because this is not only one of the best films of the year, but it’s Clint Eastwood’s best film since Gran Torino. It’s also a welcome entry in the summer movie season, as it’s a nice break from all the sequels and CGI-filled movies that are currently filling the movie theaters this weekend. So, I recommend you going out to see Jersey Boys, as the film is unfortunately doing pretty poorly at the box office, so it may not be in theaters for that long. And especially if you need an excuse to listen to some of the best tunes from the late 50’s/early 60’s.