Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons were a group of low life hoodlums from New Jersey who managed to become rock stars because they had a number of things going for them. In the same way it’s cliché for most gangsta rappers to have long rap sheets, and to rap about the streets, Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) joined Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) and Valli (John Lloyd Young) were hoodlums who managed to find success because they did two things. They found Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) and managed to knock out a number of hits in the ‘60s. Jersey Boys is a biopic of the years from trying to make it in the New Jersey club scene to their biggest successes, ending with their induction into the Hall of Fame.
The group’s back catalog found play in a stage musical about their life that has since found its way to the big screen with an odd choice for a director: Clint Eastwood.
The film follows them from the short window of time from their formation as the Four Lovers, which turned into the Four Seasons, as they struggle to find a hit song. Massi and DeVito serve as mentors to the young Valli in both music and life, as Valli is presented as this innocent (almost naïve) youth with a gifted voice. Gaudio winds up as the business partner, the one who guides Frankie into actualizing his own self interests as opposed to blindly following his friends. Throw in Christopher Walken, as local mob boss Gyp DeCarlo, and you’ve got the potential for an interesting biopic on one of music’s more interesting group of characters.
The problem is that there’s no dramatic heft to any of it, killing any sort of tension throughout. Eastwood, who has shown he can pull out tension in most situations, seems to be filming this with more an attention to detail for the time period than for dramatic potential. Valli’s personal life, including his daughter’s death from a drug overdose, isn’t given any sort of connection that would make us involved. There’s so much here that could be looked at and explored that winds up being left untouched.
His production team has gotten the time period down in exquisite detail, of course, but the film has tons of situations that could be mined for something more than what Eastwood brings out of it. It seems like Eastwood wants to do two films here.
One is a period piece about the lack of innocence in an era that is always shown in cinema to have been the last innocent era of America. Eastwood likes digging into this era, of one where Leave it to Beaver wasn’t as accurate as many people would like it to be. Eastwood has fun delving into the unseemly side of this era in only the way someone who lived through it, and wasn’t impressed, can have.
The other is a biopic of Frankie Valli, a naïve young boy who became a music star. The problem here is that Eastwood doesn’t want us to let go of any illusions that fame, or touring, changed him into someone who wasn’t nearly perfect. It’s hinted at, of course, but Valli was no saint and the film often goes to great lengths to avoid doing anything to change its first impression of Valli. Eastwood doesn’t want us to let go of Valli as the same young kid everyone looked out for, et al, when history tells us otherwise.
Jersey Boys becomes to dispassionate combination of both of those films. For fans of the Four Seasons and Frankie Valli this is something to see, though arguably it’s better to see it on stage instead.
Director: Clint Eastwood Writer:Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice based off the stage musical of the same name by Elice and Brickman Notable Cast: John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Vincent Piazza, Michael Lomenda, Freya Tingley, Erica Piccininni
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.