Clint Eastwood gives Broadway musical Jersey Boys the celluloid treatment, adding his own touches of genius that, pardon the pun, really makes the story of the Four Seasons sing.
Eastwood seems to get it on all levels, creating a movie musical that isn't too heavy on music, but doesn't skimp on it, yet gives it an urgency with the behind-the-scenes drama that makes it interesting to those who don't give a dang about the mid-20th century boy band.
The tug-of-war for the film, though, is making it fit for the big screen when it really feels more like a made-for-TV biopic. But what do I know? The 60-something guy next to me was singing along with every tune and when the movie was over, yelled "Bravo" at the screen.
The movie is really a few stories rolled into one. First, there's the story of the group of guys from outside of Newark — Belleville, N.J. — who, according to the first of the four to speak directly into the camera (the asides technique is used in the musical and skillfully done here), have only three ways to get out of their dead end town: “join the Mob, join the Army, or get famous.”
They are Goodfellas types who come from lower middle class homes that have pictures of the Pope in the same frame as a black and white of Frank Sinatra, where spaghetti is the staple at dinner, and "dis, dat, does and yo," plus a slap upside the head, are a common language. The movie begins following the small town thugs whose plan to steal a safe goes awry when it's too heavy and big to fit in the truck of a car.
But soon the focus turns to Francesco Stephen Castelluccio, a.k.a. Frankie Valli, the guy with the falsetto voice. Frankie is basically a good guy, while his pal Tommy DeVito (the wonderful Vincent Piazza), a hustler, sees that Frankie is a Golden Ticket.
The movie goes through the band's rise and fall, Frankie's tumultuous life with his alcoholic wife, and eventually the debt he has to pay off because of DeVito's gambling addiction.
The only known star in the cast is Christopher Walken, who dives into the role as a mobster who tears up when Frankie sings.
John Lloyd Young, who created the role on Broadway, is absolutely riveting on screen. Eastwood approached Lloyd Young to star in the film while he was performing the show. It was a wise choice in the fact that he's played Valli almost 2,000 times on stage.
The director insisted that the cast sing live on camera and there's definitely the feel of the immediate performance. Eastwood also makes sure that the decades (the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s) are captured creating almost another character with the spot-on eras. Eastwood's direction, which is reminiscent of the same style he brought to the 2008 Changeling, soars amidst vintage instruments, cars and costumes.
A bit of trivia: Keep an eye out for Eastwood's daughter Francesca Eastwood. She has a cameo appearance as a waitress who flirts with one of the band members.
While the film has its share of gems, the curtain call takes the cake. How to capture a Broadway curtain call on film? The wonderful closing number of Jersey Boys is choreographed to a tee. And Walken doing a soft shoe? Priceless.