SYNOPSIS: Based on the Broadway hit of the same name, Jersey Boys begins in 1951 Belleville, New Jersey and follows childhood friends Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young who won a Tony for his performance of Valli on stage), Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) from the streets to the studio and with the addition of songwriter and keyboardist Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), from clubs to concert halls as the Four Seasons, one of the biggest selling acts in rock history. Hits like Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like A Man and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You kept them at the top of the charts but ego, in-fighting and money troubles blew them apart.
Richard: 2 Stars
Mark: 3 Stars
Richard: Mark, I thought director Clint Eastwood set up the story of the band well enough. From their hard scrapple beginnings to the height of their success, it’s a rags-to-riches story and when it focuses on the four band members it works. Unfortunately it takes a cast of characters to tell the tale and Eastwood seems content to allow his supporting actors to go off-the-charts theatrical. By the time the end credits roll it’s clear that the movie is a caricature of a real life story. Nothing feels completely genuine, as if the theatricality of the stage version bled into the film.
Mark: Richard, I think I know when the film goes off the rails. When the band breaks up two thirds of the way through, everything that follows feels forced, cheesy, and the emotions play a bit phony. But I still enjoyed the movie. I saw the theatrical version twice and I’m a big fan of the group. The music makes a bigger impact in the stage version, but some of the characters play better in the film. None of the acting is stellar, but it’s always fun to watch Christopher Walken do his “good mobster” schtick, and Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio, the brains of the group, really stood out for me.
RC: The songs are undeniably catchy and well performed by a cast, three quarters of which come from the various incarnations of the stage show. They are earworms that sound authentic, by and large thanks to Young who perfectly mimics Valli’s soaring multi-octave falsetto voice. The bulk of the movie, unfortunately, doesn’t soar as high as Young’s voice. The Broadway show is basically a rock concert with a story. The big screen treatment requires more.
MB: I thought it did-in places. The feuding between the members of the group worked better in the movie, but the opening scenes of Italian boys in da hood has been done many times before and went on way too long. Note that it takes one full hour before they sing their first hit, Sherry. The movie filled in a lot of texture about the Jersey mob and life on the road that wasn’t in the play, but you know, Richard, it’s about a rock group in the Sixties, so I don’t even have to like it to like it.
RC: I liked the style, the songs but I wanted more from the characters. The songs will stay in your head, the characters won’t.
MB: And after Valli got his name upfront of the group, shouldn’t it technically have been “Frankie Valli and the Three Seasons?”
“There is nothing that bonds a cast more than being in the back of a truck with live pigs,” says John Lloyd Young.
Young, who won a Tony for his performance of Frankie Valli on Broadway, plays the singer in the big screen adaptation of Jersey Boys. Teamed with Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) Valli rose from the streets to the studio and with the addition of songwriter and keyboardist Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), from clubs to concert halls as the Four Seasons, one of the biggest selling acts in rock history. Hits like Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like A Man and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You kept them at the top of the charts but ego, in-fighting and money troubles blew them apart.
Young, Lomenda and Piazza bonded on the third day of the shoot. “We were shooting a scene where we were in the middle of the desert and our car breaks down,” Young says. “We end up having to hitch a ride with a farmer and the back of the truck is filled with pigs. The three of us guys were actually in the back of this truck with a bunch of pigs, doing take after take, and every time the truck started it was like a lesson in pig execratory systems.
“It was a sequence that’s been cut from the movie,” he says, “but it proved to be a real bonding experience for us.”
Young, Lomenda and Bergen are all veterans of the stage show, which they say was a benefit when making the movie.
“Knowledge of that audience reaction is in our head and in every single thing we do as these characters on stage. You cannot forget that when you’re doing the same character onscreen. You know how the audience responds, and even though it is just crew guys, (director) Clint (Eastwood) and your fellow actors, you have those instincts in there. The audience is there with you.”
Frankie Valli was also with them. In fact, the singer has been a presence since before the show hit the stage.
“He showed up unannounced at a rehearsal before I had even completed my work building the character,” says Young of the Broadway show. “That was nerve wracking but by the time we got to the set I think he and I were both enjoying watching his life be immortalized by Clint Eastwood.”
“If you don’t write a good review for this I guarantee Frankie Valli will show up at your door,” chimes in Bergen. “He knows some people who know some people,” adds Young with a laugh.