Today, the music industry is full of auto-tune and so many familiar sounds that you can’t distinguish one singer/group from the next. Back in the day (a favorite phrase of mine that makes it seem like I can speak for a time that I can’t really attest to), there was a lot of diversity in the sounds and styles of musicians and even before The Beatles, Queen, and even The Rolling Stones, there was a different group of young men introducing a new style. They could play instruments, write songs, and look good for their audiences, but it was a soothing falsetto voice that set them apart from everyone else in the industry.
In New Jersey, the old neighborhoods were almost impossible to escape, unless you died, went to jail, or became famous. The latter was the way that young Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young) was going to break out and he planned to do so with his singing. He had a gorgeous falsetto that was a sound that no one else was using and this was evident to Frankie’s friend and mentor, Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza). Tommy, who had a band with his brother and bassist Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), was always in-and-out of jail, but included Frankie as lead singer when the group needed a refresh. They were playing love songs that just weren’t cutting it, until a young Joe Pesci (Joseph Russo) introduced them to Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), who became their writer and keyboardist. They made beautiful music as the “Four Lovers”, but they just never had the chance to share their music with enough people.
With a little bit of persistence and luck, the group got a deal with Bob Crewe (Miek Doyle) and became backup singers, until they had their first hit with “Sherry”. After that, the group churned out hit-after-hit and all seemed well on the surface. They were having fun and the only troublesome one of the group was Tommy. He only cared about himself and got the group in deep with some shady characters and they only had a mobster by the name of Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken) on their side. The group goes through their ups and downs and even parts ways at times. But, their music and style took the world by storm and it’s the behind-the-scenes info that you didn’t know that makes this story so riveting.
Jersey Boys is a film adaptation of the Tony Award winning musical of the same name. With very few “recognizable” actors and a cast made up of predominately Broadway stars, this film manages to display new talent and serve as a wonderful Biopic. While it’s certainly not as showy as many Broadway Musicals are, Jersey Boys still incorporates song & dance and manages to have a lot of fun with it, though it still hits the dramatic and emotional beats required for this story. The performances and music are outstanding and it’s yet to leave my head days after seeing the film. There’s just something magical about the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons!
Without John Llyod Young, this film would be incomplete. Frankie Valli is known for his tremendous and incomparable falsetto and Lloyd Young effortlessly matches it and creates beautiful music. It’s no wonder why he played the role on Broadway and the Tony Award he earned for it makes a ton of sense. He’s brilliant as Valli- from the mannerisms to the highest notes possible. He plays Valli at many different ages and stages in his life and does a great job of changing his voice around to fit the specific time. He’s simply electric when he sings and his interactions with the other members and anyone else are pure and authentic. Lloyd Young carries most of this film on his back and you simply can’t get enough of him.
Vincent Piazza, a Boardwalk Empire regular, shines in a much darker light and he makes quite the impression on the audience. He’s a terrible person, but he’s also very fun to laugh at and his character brings a lot to the table. He did create the Frankie Valli we see (as he mentions more than a few times), but he’s a total sleeze and has no respect for anyone but himself. Erich Bergen brings some subdued personality to the group and watching him scribble lyrics and find inspiration for the group. Michael Lomenda is more comical than the others and Joseph Russo does a great Joe Pesci impersonation. Even Christopher Walken is great as a mobster with a heart and an ear for music.
Aside from Lloyd Young and his band of misfits, the music is what also stands out in this film. From the Four Seasons top hits, to some of their lesser known songs, the presentations of the music were amazing. Watching the group perform for Televised audiences and then switching to recording booths was fascinating. Eastwood found a mixture of silly/fun and serious/emotional for each song and his characters breaking of the fourth wall works surprisingly well, as the characters are still performing as they speak. The last number in the film’s end credits is an ode to the Broadway show and it’s just a blast. Eastwood manages to keep this a film for the most part, but still has fun making it a musical in others.
It’s hard to capture the magic of live theatre on the big screen, which is evident by some tonal misfires and hiccups in this film. Some scenes play out a bit more goofy than they should and some are taken way too serious. There’s some confusion with time in the film, as we never get a clear indicator as to how old the characters are, or how long they’ve been performing for. Two extra daughters (Maybe they’re daughters… The film never bothered to clue us in on that one) pop up and there’s a lot of bad, old-man makeup too (Eastwood really has a problem with this one). The theatre geek inside of me also wishes for more song-and-dance scenes, but you can only do so much with the subject matter.
I’m fairly positive that the stage version of Jersey Boys is lightyears better, but if this film is half as good as the live show, I believe that audiences are in for a real treat. It’s an interesting story told through different perspectives and the music is to die for. I have had Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons albums playing all day and night. It’s a film I’d go see again in a heartbeat because I had an extremely fun time with it. I loved the inclusion of Broadway actors and they transitioned so well into the world of film. These characters will win you over and they’ll have you happily engaged for the entire duration of the film. If anything, this film will open you up to a great musical group and may even encourage you to go catch this show, or any other on Broadway. There’s nothing quite like live theatre, but this adaptation of Jersey Boys does it some justice!
Jersey Boys Trailer