I’ll tell you a high school story from only a few years ago (okay, more like eight, but why count?). In an American history class in the eleventh grade, I had a teacher who wanted to put as little pressure on his students as possible, even though he had everyone stand in military fashion being a Vietnam veteran himself.
So almost every morning before the bell would ring he always had his favorite group playing on his stereo. This is where I was first introduced to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
Sure, I heard “Walk Like a Man” play in my dad’s car every now and then, but my teacher really liked these guys. He always had a new song playing to give us something to snap to and even told us a little about the band. There’s not a memory that flashes by with that class without a Four Seasons song playing in the background.
I, too, fell into the music of this group. They may not be a timeless band but their sound is so unique that it’s impossible not to identify them. Clint Eastwood decided to take a stab not just at the biopic genre but also the musical genre with his latest Jersey Boys.
Like most musical movies these days, this is based off of the popular Broadway musical of the same name, yet I have not had the privilege to see it yet. But I can guess that it follows it well.
Fittingly enough, our story starts in the early fifties where Tommy DeVito (played by Vincent Piazza) speaks to the audience about how growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey is tough and only the roughest can survive. Rough is being kind to this young man as Tommy has a bad habit of getting himself sent to jail many times.
He also has some musical talent as he, a friend Nick Massi, and young Frankie Valli (played by John Lloyd Young) like to perform as a trio.
They all have dreams to take their voices to bigger places and manage to get a fourth guy, Bob Gaudio, so that they can get work. It starts with them being backup singers but eventual hits like “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like a Man” make them one of the biggest groups of all time.
Besides giving plenty of chances for the group to serenade us with many of their hits, we get insights on the band members’ lives from Frankie Valli’s daughter running away to Tommy’s further troubles with debts and mobs.
The Broadway show’s gimmick was that you were watching four actors become the Four Seasons and enjoy their songs while the historical stuff is more of a side event.
Making a movie out of this isn’t difficult, but changes had to be made to make the material more interesting. With Clint Eastwood in the director’s chair, the historical events have been expanded upon, taking more focus than the songs themselves.
It’s a big gamble, considering that the men playing the Four Seasons are the same actors from the stage show. The good news is that all of these guys are good film actors.
This is something I would like to see from more big budgeted affairs, but because they’re using really good unknowns, I only saw a young Frankie Valli and a young Tommy DeVito, rather than impersonators. In fact, the only big name is this movie is Christopher Walken as a mobster, but even he settles into his role just fine without giving in to his unusual
The songs themselves are a lot of fun to listen to and are staged really well. Some of them are being sung in a recording room, some of them are simply heard on the radio, and my favorite moment was watching them perform on a recreated Ed Sullivan show that just seems too genuine to be a film production.
If I had any problem here it’s with the expanded behind the scenes material with the Four Seasons. While it’s not really bad, it can come off as really formulaic and almost made-for-TV like in quality. I think it’s simply because I enjoyed the songs and recreations so much that the rest of the band’s troubles just aren’t as interesting. They could have cut some of it out.
In fact, I usually fault musicals for having one too many songs, but I think Jersey Boys didn’t have enough. There are a lot of songs here, but couldn’t there have been a scene of Frankie Valli singing “Grease” or something?
I’ll give this four Broadway Jersey Boys posters out of five. In the end, if you’re going to see this movie, chances are you are seeing this for the performances of the songs and not for the story behind the band. I can see this being a problem for people who want something meatier but I had fun. Just simply tell yourself to have one of those “Oh, What a Night” nights and enjoy the Four Seasons.
Robert T. Nickerson is a film critic. His work can be seen at mastermindfilmproductions.com.