By Vincent Abbatecola
Back in 2005, Broadway introduced audiences to “Jersey Boys,” a musical that told of how The Four Seasons became a singing sensation. With the way it explored how the main characters were changed by their success told a classic, but true story of the fame that comes with hard work, and the troubles that come with conflicts within an artistic group.
Legendary director Clint Eastwood now brings an adaptation of the musical to his still-growing filmography. Seeing as his last couple of movies had trouble matching the greatness of his previous films, I was worried about how he would approach this piece of music history. Although the performances are up to par for an Eastwood movie, the film has difficulty translating the energy from the show that made it immensely appealing.
In 1950s Belleville, New Jersey, Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young) works at a barbershop and has dreams of becoming a famous singer. After a few run-ins with the law, Frankie and his friend, Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), decide to become more serious about their musical talents. When the two of them and fellow band-member Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) need a fourth person in their group, they recruit aspiring songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) to join them.
After receiving a few gigs, the band begins a steady climb to stardom. They enjoy their fame at first, but tension begins to rise within the group when problems both inside and outside of the quartet threaten to jeopardize everything it has achieved.
One of the things that the movie does get right is the casting of John Lloyd Young, who originated the role of Frankie Valli for the Broadway musical and won a Tony Award for doing so. A champ of falsetto and performance presence, it’s a treat to watch him sing if you didn’t get to see him act the role on the stage, especially when he gets to “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” Even in his more dialogue-heavy scenes, you can see he’s comfortable with the transition from stage to screen.
Vincent Piazza exhibits a tough New Jersey personality as Tommy DeVito, an individual who seems to have never left the wrong side of the tracks. With the thick Jersey accent and attitude that exudes unbreakable confidence, Piazza offers a forceful personality.
Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda round out the famous quartet, and are as proficient as Piazza and Young in their acting and singing. Whatever liveliness is missing from other aspects of the movie, at least the four leads do what they can to keep some spirit throughout the film.
Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who wrote the book for the musical, have penned the screenplay. Although the show was lively and incorporated many of the band’s hits in interesting and entertaining ways to tell the story, the movie just doesn’t capture the same vibrancy, and the structure of the narrative is more like what you would see in a normal famous-musician biopic, such as “Walk the Line” and “Ray,” rather than an adaptation of a Broadway musical.
Director Clint Eastwood, as much as I respect him, is not a decent match for this kind of film. Sadly, this movie continues a steady decline in quality that has been seen in a few of his more recent films, starting with “Hereafter,” which was good, but not of the high caliber that was present in many of Eastwood’s films that came before.
Even though the lyrics are beautifully sung, the scenes in which the band performs their songs could have had a lot more Broadway-style kick to them, and the scenes that are very dialogue-driven tend to slow the movie down considerably. With this downtempo pace, it’s almost difficult to believe that this film is supposed to be based on a Broadway show. There shouldn’t be problems like this in a movie about music legends.
The only real sequence that reminds you that this is supposed to be an adaptation of a musical is the end credits where The Four Seasons and the rest of the cast sing and dance to “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night). Not only was it disappointing for me to see one of my favorite songs from the quartet get wasted in a sequence that feels out of place with the structure of the rest of the movie, but the scene is also a glimpse into what this movie could have been if it had landed in the hands of a director who has had success with directing movie musicals, such as Bill Condon, who did “Dreamgirls, or Rob Marshall, who did “Chicago.” That song also could have been put to much better use if it had gone with the scene that it was supposed to, just like in the show.
Given the splendid experience of watching the history of The Four Seasons play out on Broadway, it’s unfortunate that most of the show’s spirit was lost in its move to film. The material was all there for the screenwriters and director to properly use, but they weren’t able to retain the musical’s better qualities. Oh, what a shame.
Final grade: C