3 1/2 StarsI’m admittedly not a fan of musicals, but Jersey Boys is one of the best to come along. There have been a select few over the years that have been memorable, but typically the genre bores me to tears. Story momentum is constantly broken by three or four-minute interludes that do nothing but serve as either bad karaoke or just bad music. Oddly, Jersey Boys contains all my usual quibbles with the genre, all the musical bio-pic clichés abound, and still I enjoyed this picture. The performances are winning-if a bit theatrical-and the direction from Eastwood is sublimely handled. Fans of the stage production have cried out in regards to the toned down aesthetic of this film version, but that is appropriate given the medium and the seriousness of the tale.
The picture begins in New Jersey as we are introduced to the main characters while they attempt to break out of the local music scene and into big-time showbiz. Coming from a predominately Italian neighborhood the youthful singers are approached by various men of dubious intent, interested in gaining a foothold on the rising talents. One such mafia figure Norman Waxman, becomes intertwined with the group as a quiet financial backer and that’s where some of the early problems arise.
After hitting it big on the radio and in concert, it becomes apparent to all that Frankie Valli is the most charismatic and talented of the group. This, of course, adds tension to already fractured inter-personal relationships within the band. Along with the increase in popularity, comes the lure of women, drugs and yes men. Valli finds himself reaching for a solo career, while alienating the brothers that launched him into the spotlight.
By this time, Frankie’s daughter has grown up in his absence. She has runaway from home and turned to dangerous drugs in replacement of the father figure. The movie is at its weakest in these clumsy scenes. However, the pay-off, an emotional rendition of “Can’t take my eyes off of you” is the best scene in the film.
To be clear those looking for a Walk the Line type examination of an artist in decline, or a Ray like film about the battle back from the brink of self-destruction, will probably find Jersey Boys lightweight and inconsequential. However, Valli’s tale is worth a look for those interested in the hoopla surrounding the long-running stage production. By casting all unknowns, mixed with the broken fourth wall structure of the screenplay, Eastwood has given the story an intimacy and candor that feels authentic.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Vincent Piazza, Christopher Walken