“Jersey Boys” Movie Review

     Tasked with bringing the award winning Broadway play “Jersey Boys” to the big screen, director Clint Eastwood made a number of interesting decisions.  Some of those decisions work out well, but the final product is surprisingly bland in what has the feel of a very no frills production.  Perhaps you may expect this kind of filmmaking from an independent film whose budget and resources are limited, but Eastwood doesn’t seem to be concerned with the big musical numbers and the kind of grand scenery that would make a story like this significantly more appealing.  Maybe Eastwood’s intention was to make a simple film set in a time when everything was certainly more plain, but a biopic about one of the most famous rock groups in musical history seemingly deserved more in my eyes.

     Two things Eastwood gets right are the casting of the very Broadway actors who made the show famous in the first place as the film’s lead actors.  Taking a cue from 2012’s musical “Les Miserables”, Eastwood also has his actors sing all of the songs live, rather than having them mime with a prerecorded track.  As Frankie Valli, John Lloyd Young is able to nail Valli’s famous falsetto voice so accurately, you wouldn’t know the difference between the two.  The same goes for casting Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi, the groups memorable deep base voice.  Erich Bergen is also excellent as the group’s songwriter and back up singer, Bob Gaudio, and “Boardwalk Empire” alum Vincent Piazza rounds out the group as the founder of “The Four Seasons”, Tommy DeVito.  With these four actors almost completely unknown to moviegoing audiences, they easily settle into their respective roles.  This, coupled with their ability to sing each and every hit from the group’s long list of memorable songs brings instant credibility to what we’re seeing on screen.

     With the exception of the last musical number, Eastwood prefers to shoot each and every scene in very plain looking environments, infusing them with uncharacteristically dull color palettes. While the story spends a great deal of the film’s 135 minute running time exploring the group’s struggles while growing up in the shadow of the Mafia controlled streets of 1950s New Jersey, films of this nature should really be about celebrating the accomplishments of this legendary group and visually speaking, Eastwood misses the mark.  The audience I watched the film with clapped at the end, but I can only imagine the reception the film would have gotten if Eastwood had chosen to liven up the proceedings with color, a tighter edit, and modern camera motion to capture both the group, as well as the adoring fans who cheered for them.

     Considering the inexperience of the actors, there are several dramatic scenes that are surprisingly robust.  Eastwood was smart to cast scene stealer Christopher Walken as Gyp DeCarlo, the neighborhood Mob boss and mentor to both Tommy and Frankie.  In one particular scene where Frankie, Bob, and Nick stage an intervention of sorts to deal with Tommy’s out of control gambling debts, Nick goes on an over the top rant accusing Tommy of everything from going to the bathroom in hotel sinks to never wearing underwear.  Just when the scene begins to get out of hand and reaches the ceiling of it’s dramatic heights, Walken steps in with the timing of a true comic master and lightens the mood for both those in the room and the audience.  I wish there had been more scenes like this one, but unfortunately the majority of the story plays like a companion to “Goodfellas” (and every other Mob movie for that matter).  You have the typical struggles for power within the family and organization, along with the usual shenanigans involving stolen goods, gambling, and womanizing.

     For fans of the group’s vast music library or the Broadway show, “Jersey Boys” will please at a certain level and may disappoint in others.  That their music is still wildly popular after five decades is a testament to the fact they successfully created their own sound, which gave them incredible staying power and allowed them to both flourish and remain relevant even in the worst of times.  Though the story and dramatic aspects of Eastwood’s film do not measure up to the standard we have become accustomed to from the famed actor/director, “Jersey Boys” benefits enough from it’s source material to thrive as a musical, especially for those view “The Four Seasons” as being on par with some of the greatest acts in history.  GRADE: C+