Jersey Boys: Big screen boys hit all the right notes
Director Clint Eastwood makes a cinematic success of the four seasons musical stage show, says Andrew Johnston
Starring: John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Michael Lamenda, Vincent Piazza, Christopher Walken. Director: Clint Eastwood
At 84, Clint Eastwood could be forgiven for taking it easy and reflecting on a life and career well spent. But instead, the Hollywood legend continues to fire out movies, his latest effort being this superb adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Jersey Boys. It might seem a strange fit, but Eastwood has always loved music, having previously directed 1988's Charlie Parker biopic Bird, as well as producing several jazz and blues documentaries, and he brings to Jersey Boys a deep appreciation for the sounds of the 1950s and 60s, as well as understanding of what made teenagers of the time tick.
The film tells the story of New Jersey singing group the Four Seasons, nominally led by Frankie Valli, played by John Lloyd Young, reprising the role from the stage. But the crux of the film is the power struggle between Valli, lead guitarist Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) and songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), with the quartet completed by the band's good-natured 'Ringo' character, bass guitarist Nick Massi (Michael Lamenda).
The leads aren't household names by any stretch of the imagination, but Christopher Walken brings some star power – and a few natty dance steps – as mob boss Gyp DeCarlo. There's also a small role for Joe Pesci (who was friends with the Four Seasons as a young man.)
It spools out like a singing, dancing version of GoodFellas, and not just because of Pesci's presence. The crude, bluff DeVito narrates proceedings from the sidelines, in a device lifted straight from the musical, but similarly evocative of Ray Liotta's Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese's gangster epic.
All four actors give fantastic performances, enjoying an easy chemistry together, and Walken is the cherry on top. Eastwood directs with love and care, often stepping back to let the soundtrack of wonderful songs – including the likes of December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night), I Can't Give You Anything but Love, Can't Take My Eyes Off You and Working My Way Back to You – do much of the work. It's also very funny, with comedic moments ranging from witty wordplay to out-and-out slapstick.
The crooners' rise to fame and fortune itself is compelling, despite much of their tale being by default familiar. Off stage, it's the usual rock 'n' roll cocktail of drink, drugs, extra-marital affairs, neglected kids, financial woes and infighting. It's a challenge to make this stuff seem fresh, but the relationships within Jersey Boys are engaging enough to get the film through.
Indeed, you sometimes get the sense Eastwood is less interested in the behind-the-scenes dramas than he is in the nuts and bolts of the recording industry. For example, he cuts straight from Valli and future wife Mary's (Kathrine Narducci) first date to their wedding car leaving the church. This could just be a pacing decision, but Jersey Boys seems to be that rare musical biopic: one where the songs and songwriting are to the fore.