Since debuting in 2005, Jersey Boys has been one of the most popular Broadway musicals around. It has also revived interest in Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, a group that, despite being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, hadn’t always gotten its due.
The movie version of Jersey Boys, directed by Clint Eastwood, attempts to replicate the success of the musical by detailing the rise of Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young, reprising his role from Broadway), Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) and Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) from New Jersey hoodlums to music superstars.
What the songs can’t do, though, is make the characters’ individual stories all that compelling.
If told truthfully, the story has compelling moments. A running joke shows Valli constantly on the edge of getting into real trouble, but members of the community turn a blind eye to his transgressions because of his unmistakable singing talent. And the idea that Valli and DeVito had strong ties to the mob adds a certain menacing presence to the proceedings.
But, of course, it’s the music that makes the story truly come alive, and there’s little anyone could do to mess it up. Songs like “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man” and “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” still resonate, and the film pops during those moments.
What the songs can’t do, though, is make the characters’ individual stories all that compelling. When Valli and DeVito are still young and hanging around their old neighborhood, they’re pretty interesting. It’s when the group starts to gain some success, and the two start to clash about money and other things, that the film starts to devolve.
A perfect example of this is the return again and again to Valli’s family. The family is in the movie because they existed, but they don’t really matter in the story the film is telling. Much is made of Valli’s estrangement from his daughter Francine, as if she were his only child. But a big fight scene clearly shows that he has three daughters, making us wonder why the other two are given short shrift in the family drama.
Even the group’s road to stardom is told confusingly. References to actual dates are rare and fleeting, so anyone not intimately familiar with the story is left in the dark as to when events took place or how long things actually took to transpire. Movie audiences want to feel as if they’re being taken on the ride with the characters, not just being shown that the ride happened.
Also, the filmmakers sacrificed certain elements that make the film come off worse than it should. A scene set in a snowstorm utilizes the worst-looking, most inconsistent snow you’ll ever see on screen. Hair and makeup is a constant issue, especially when the film fast-forwards in time toward the end, giving the stars the look of Botoxed zombies.
For all of that, though, the performances of the main foursome keep the film watchable. Young shows why he won a Tony in the role on Broadway, displaying a great voice and above-average acting chops. Piazza, the most experienced actor of the four, has the most Jersey in him, and consequently he gets many of the best lines.
Still, the songs and the actors can only do so much. Jersey Boys may have been an all-out winner onstage, but it barely rises above mediocre on the big screen.