Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda
Based on the Broadway musical, based on the story of the Four Seasons
It was common knowledge but news to me that Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, one of the seminal American fifties pop groups was “mobbed up” but that’s a fact. That’s interesting and so were their fractious in-house relationships. But the heart and soul of the foursome, the thing the public relates to it their distinctive, perfectly balanced and melodic pop tunes. Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry. Walk Like a Man. Wow.
Valli’s high pitched delivery and the backups muscular chorus was in some ways the sounds of a generation – their songs were dramatic, rhythmic and rousing and told stories about teenaged love just as the idea of “the teenager” was becoming culturally important. The songs are “catchy” and their power to move is as strong today as ever.
Clint Eastwood directs this adaptation of the multi-award winning Broadway musical that has dominated live theatre around the word since its 2006 debut. Eastwood’s musical interests in west coast jazz seems at odds with this definitively east coast doo wop world, but music is music and a well-made film is just that. It’s masterful, smart, beautifully conceived and paced and pushes all the emotion buttons.
Eastwood covers a lot of ground in a coherent 134 minutes. There’s the musical development, the boys growing up in public, their learning curve and influence, how they changed over time but never lost that Jersey feel. The mob chapters are jarring but definitely of a time and place. Thankfully the usual social change/newsreel footage trope is absent. Indications of change in the music industry and styles are made through dialogue.
John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda, the actors who play the Four Seasons are tight together, and no wonder, they have been part of the Jersey Boys machine for nearly a decade, from the original megahit, award-winning Broadway show, to road shows at home and internationally to recordings. They say the fans keep the show fresh for them and they feel the love for the music constantly.
Young, as Valli, has that eerie high pitched voice and flawless delivery and control, a well-honed kind of performance that has become a thing of the past. Today’s performers are relaxed and serve the individual not the group. So this trip down memory lane to the disciplined, honed and sophisticated pop of the fifties and early sixties is most welcome.
But this is one musical film that could use more music. The big hits are performed and some from Valli’s later solo career, but it’s not enough. The cast makes the most of every musical moment, singing their hearts out while doing a dance line number that the Four Seasons never actually used but should have; its powerful stuff, not just in terms of nostalgia, it’s kinda sexy.
Jersey Boys is a work of art. The director and cast have come close to perfection. Expect it to figure high in awards season.