Here is something you do not see often in movies these days. As “Jersey Boys” opens, the camera settles upon a street in New Jersey in the early 1950s. Then Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) comes into the scene and immediately addresses the audience, laying the foundation for the story and giving the film an intimate one-on-one feel. This is a device employed in the stage production as written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice — who also wrote the movie screenplay — and used occasionally throughout the movie, Clint Eastwood’s screen adaptation of the popular award-winning musical.
Because of the success of “Jersey Boys” on stage, the story is well known, chronicling the rise and eventual fall of The Four Seasons, the pop group that had several huge hits in the early 1960s. Also, because of the high profile of the play, the screen version has been widely anticipated, especially in the directorial hands of Eastwood, already a proven talent behind the camera.
Eastwood’s smartest move was casting John Lloyd Young, who already has won a Tony Award, in the pivotal role of Frankie Valli, the falsetto-voiced singer who provided the Four Seasons with its unique sound. In fact, Eastwood opted to have stage actors rather than film performers, wanting to get people who have become familiar with the roles from playing them repeatedly.
Of the major characters, only Piazza, who has played Lucky Luciano in “Boardwalk Empire,” and Christopher Walken have extensive film experience.
The result is an exhilarating film, loaded with music, along with its share of drama, humor and tragedy. It’s early, but “Jersey Boys” could be a contender for Academy Award nominations.
Young’s ability to mimic Valli’s voice really cements the authenticity during the many song productions in “Jersey Boys.”
Young’s Valli is a basically decent teenager when “Jersey Boys” opens, a youngster in New Jersey who falls under the influence of the street-wise DeVito, and although DeVito briefly leads Valli astray with some illegal activities, their brotherhood is sealed.
DeVito also is the leader of a pop group, featuring Valli as lead singer, that goes through several name changes before a neon sign inspires the group to become The Four Seasons.
The story follows the usual path of a group struggling to establish itself, doing gigs wherever it could get bookings while trying to generate interest in demo records.
The key relationships that help propel The Four Seasons is the hook-up of songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) with the group, introduced to the band by Joe Pesci (yes that Joe Pesci, but played by Joseph Russo), who starts cranking out the hits; and meeting up with producer-songwriter Bob Crewe (a scene-stealing Mike Doyle).
Fame and fortune follow, along with the inevitable problems. Although devoted to his wife Mary (Renee Marino, also reprising her stage role) and family, Valli’e excessive absences while he is on the road leads to the crumbling of his family.
Meanwhile, DeVito’s irresponsible handling of finances amounts to massive debt, which in turn triggers a splintering of the group.
Before that, Gaudio, a lot more savvy about the music business, forges a partnership with Valli so that once The Four Seasons are no more, the two can continue to make music.
Tragedy almost has Valli completely dropping out of the business until Gaudio brings him another song that he reluctantly takes a look at. It turns out to be “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” another enormous hit that revives Valli’s career.
Walken adds some nice touches as Gyp DeCarlo, a neighborhood boss in New Jersey who takes a liking to Valli’s singing and later proves to be a valuable ally in solving the Devito-generated financial disasters.
Amid the great scenes of The Four Seasons peformances is the familiar story of the glory of success and how easy it can disintegrate. But it also is a story about loyalty and allegiance that became a foundation to the lives of Valli and his fellow group members.
“Jersey Boys” is a throwback to those great musically-centered movies of decades ago and a viewer does not have to be a fan of The Four Seasons to appreciate the production, which concludes with an all-cast dance routine to “December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” as the credits begin to roll.