Jersey Boys (2014) ☆ ☆ ☆

I’ve always enjoyed the music of The Four Seasons, especially after the band adapted the name Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  Their hits of the 1970s are bright and bold, and lots of fun to sing.  Yet when the play “Jersey Boys” first appeared, telling the story of how the band came to be, and how it overcame the adversity that always seems to come with fame, I was not interested in seeing it.  I’m not sure why, but I think it had to do with my total ignorance regarding the other three Seasons.  So I am grateful that this new movie, based upon the play, has introduced me to Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi and Bob Gaudio.  Now I have a pretty good idea of who the Four Seasons really are, and I’d kinda like to see the play.

Clint Eastwood (!) directs this biopic that relates how Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza, in a star-making performance) and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda, quiet but effective) persuade golden-voiced Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young, repeating his Tony-winning turn) to join their band.  But success doesn’t arrive until they partner with singer-songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen, who is also tremendous) and producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle, who steals scene after scene).  However, between Frankie’s tumultuous home life, the demands of the road, Tommy’s penchant for spending money he doesn’t have and Nick’s simmering disgust with everything, it is only a matter of time until things fall apart.

It’s a familiar story because so many bands have experienced variations on it, but it rings true under Eastwood’s direction and a witty script by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elise.  The focus is on friendship and the band’s internal relationships, which is studied when things go great as well as when crisis rips things apart.  One constant is neighborhood mobster Gyp de Carlo (Christopher Walken), who loves Frankie’s voice and tries to watch over him.  Another constant is the music, but even a shared love of making music cannot prevent the band from self-destruction.  The music is played live and is good, but not great.  It approximates the sound created by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, but it cannot equal that sound, principally because of the limitations placed on its recording.  That is a shame, because the music is what brings everything together, and what brings the audience into the theater.

Eastwood also broadens the story, especially at the beginning, to establish setting and character.  Frankie proves in two early sequences that he will never become a proficient bank robber, and is too naïve for his own good.  While entertaining enough, this material isn’t really germane to the Four Seasons story, and could have been cut.

On the other hand, Eastwood ably stages the band’s concert scenes and many of the band’s best songs are covered.  One of them, “My Eyes Adored You,” seems creepy when Frankie sings it as a lullaby to his youngest daughter, but adept when it is later used at a funeral sequence.  And the film’s final scene, seen behind the credits, is like a stage show curtain call, bringing the whole cast together in an exuberant dance through the streets while singing “December 1963 (Oh, What a Night).”  The musical material is good, but not spectacular, yet the film certainly works as a dramatic character piece.  The acting of Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen and Mike Doyle is reason enough to see it, and if you enjoy the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, this movie will bring back some good feelings.  ☆ ☆ ☆.  10 July 2014.

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