Starring: John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Christopher Walken, Lacey Hannan, Johnny Cannizzaro (Rated M 134 min).
If you loved the Broadway or West End play, this adaptation is basically scene for scene, word for word, including a grand finale curtain call featuring every member of the entire cast. The film even looks boxy, all closed in streets and soundstages.
The emphasis of this story looks at the four young men from the troublesome side of the tracks before they form the band Franki Valli and the Four Seasons. Mobsters, casinos and hoods including the great Christopher Walken as a Mafia Don take up much of the running time. However, the film briefly comes alive during several high rolling, barbershop quartet style musical numbers.
The emergence and life changing experiences of Frankie Valli are explored growing as the standout in the group, following his rise, his fall and rise again. An exciting chance to tweak the show cinematically has been sadly left behind. A surprise to some may be that it is directed by the former man with no name, iconic Clint Eastwood. Mr Eastwood actually has well established musicality, composing, writing and singing for many of his films to moderate success, except for possibly, Paint Your Wagon. In the director’s chair, he certainly gets emotional connections from the actors.
Musical numbers and behind the scenes of celebrity are explored with gritty detail. The cars, costumes and tone of the era are exceptionally complete. In my opinion, the opening stanza is a slow burn and another concern was having the characters talk directly into the camera to the audience, Ferris Bueller style. This is a distraction, although it is a benefit having most of the cast made up from the actual stage show.
Given the nature of the upbeat music, the film is surprisingly full of low points. John Lloyd Young is a revelation as Franki Valli, clearly a troubled youth in some areas with a back story doesn’t hold back on the negatives amongst the positives. It’s also unusual for a stage musical translation not to stop the plot for the cast to burst into songs, the numbers are mostly performed in recording studios, clubs, or on TV. This just dilutes any hope for flashy routines and lingering on the bands early days doesn’t help proceedings.
Most enjoyment will come for those who have not experienced the live show, for its legacy, Jersey Boys the movie is an unlikely disappointment. Eastwood’s daughter Francesca has a cameo as a waitress.
Shane A. Bassett