Jersey Boys

Posted by Joel Copling on June 20, 2014

There is nothing new under the sun in "Jersey Boys," but the wonderful thing about convention is that it works when it's done well. Under the comfortable helm of a filmmaker like Clint Eastwood, who has now directed two very solid period dramas in a row, this film is convention done well. It doesn't exactly tell a story that's new to anyone who has seen the Broadway show upon which it is based (created by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who are the screenwriters here), but for those--such as myself--who must go in cold and take it on its own merits, this is a love letter to Frankie Valli and the three other gentlemen who made up the Four Seasons in the 1950s and '60s.

Frankie Valli (a magnetic John Lloyd Young) and Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) meet as teenagers under the care of gentle mob boss Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken). Frankie's studying to become a hairdresser, while Tommy continues to do not-very-legal things for favors. But Frankie has the voice of an angel--quite literally, his perfect falsetto is something to behold, and Gyp promises him that his voice will be heard. Indeed, Tommy invites Frankie to join him in a band, and through the efforts of Joe Pesci (Joseph Russo)--yes, that Joe Pesci--the Four Seasons is born, with Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) joining forces for what would pretty much take the country by storm.

The film then settles into a comfortable but engrossing routine of rags-to-riches fame and everything that comes with it. Frankie woos different women and has a daughter, Francine (Elizabeth Hunter and, later, an affecting Freya Tingley), and two other children with Mary (Renee Marino). She becomes disenchanted with his seeming unwillingness to be an involved father (what with having to be on the road with his ultra-famous band). Tommy's troubles become the major plot device, owing nearly a million dollars in taxes and in loans to a shark (Donnie Kehr) who's come for his due. Friendships splinter and die, and the band's future is at stake.

So, no, there's nothing that "Jersey Boys" does in a particularly groundbreaking fashion, but Brickman and Elice's screenplay is particularly attuned to the characters. We grow to care about them, largely through the efforts of four, terrific actors. Most of them are relative newcomers (Only Piazza, eye-catching and terrific here as Tommy and a doppelganger for both Robert Pattinson and Oscar Isaac, has done significant work in the past), but Young in particular captures the ultimately bitter core and effect of fame on those upon whose shoulders it has been shoved. The songs--toe-tappers, the lot of them, bound to be bouncing around the inside of your brain for hours after viewing--are low-key showstoppers, more centered on mechanics and the spell they put on audiences than grandeur and fireworks, which is the way it should be. And while the film is a bit long (134 minutes was probably an unnecessary length), "Jersey Boys" is a smattering of conventions that come together into an engaging whole.

Film Information

John Lloyd Young (Frankie Valli), Vincent Piazza (Tommy DeVito), Erich Bergen (Bob Gaudio), Michael Lomenda (Nick Massi), Christopher Walken (Gyp DeCarlo), Renee Marino (Mary), Joseph Russo (Joey), Erica Piccininni (Lorraine), Freya Tingley (Francine at 17), Mike Doyle (Bob Crewe), Barry Livingston (Accountant), Donnie Kehr (Norm Waxman), Kathrine Narducci (Frankie's Mother), Lou Volpe (Frankie's Father), Steven Schirippa (Vito), James Madio (Stosh), Jeremy Luke (Donnie), Billy Gardell (Our Sons Owner), Lacey Hannan (Angela), Elizabeth Hunter (Francine at 7).

Directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, based on their musical book.

Rated R (language throughout).

134 minutes.

Released on June 20, 2014.