By Sandra Kraisirideja
“Jersey Boys” on Broadway had audiences jumping to their feet, but Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation of the story behind The Four Seasons will have people sleeping in their seats.
The dramatic scenes that elevated the theatrical version to more than just a “jukebox musical” creates an overly serious tone in the film that is a poor match to the group’s upbeat music, including three number one hits: “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like a Man.”
The disastrous results of the musical’s move from the stage to the screen is surprising since screenwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice also wrote the book for the musical. The story translates to film just fine, but the energy of the musical and the live performance feels dampened on film.
Like the musical, “Jersey Boys” begins in the ’50s and ends with the band’s induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. The improbable story of how four guys from Jersey—Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi—became so successful includes various run-ins with the law, ties to the mob and, incredibly, a friendship with a young Joe Pesci that would change the course of their career. It was Pesci who would introduce DeVito to Gaudio when the band was in need of a fourth member. Without Gaudio its possible The Four Seasons would never have existed.
Eastwood is no stranger to period pieces and “Jersey Boys” does capture the ’60s era nicely. Production designer James J. MuraKami, who worked on “Unforgiven,” gets the details right, including a wall clock in Valli’s home that depicts the Pope on the left side and Frank Sinatra on the right.
Costume designer Deborah Hopper, who has worked on numerous films with Eastwood, keeps it subtle as the film progresses through the ’50s and ’60s. Her clothing choices and the change in hairstyles are easy visual cues that time has passed.
The amazing John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony for his portrayal of Valli, is the only one of the four leads from the original Broadway cast to reprise his role for the movie. His performance is outstanding and he even pulls off playing Valli from age 16 to 56.
Rounding out the other Four Seasons members are Vincent Piazza as DeVito; Michael Lomenda as Massi; and Erich Bergen as Gaudio. Mike Doyle plays Bob Crewe, the producer who signed The Four Seasons and recorded their number one hits.
Piazza does too good of a job with the unlikeable DeVito. It’s hard to understand what would make Valli become friends with somebody like DeVito. Maybe that’s just the way things work in Jersey—you become friends with people from the neighborhood and once that bond is formed there’s no breaking it.
Doyle does an excellent job with his small part. His character gets to deliver some of the movie’s funniest lines and his timing is perfect.
Christopher Walken has a supporting role as Angelo “Gyp” DeCarlo, a member of the Genovese crime family. In the movie DeCarlo is depicted as a benevolent figure who acts as a guardian angel for Valli, DeVito and Massi, who had their share of run-ins with police. While Walken’s talent is underutilized, he does a great job with the time and material he’s given.
The acting and singing are the film’s strongest assets, but the sluggish pacing drags the whole thing down.