Is it possible to find success in the music industry without it corrupting everything you once loved about your life? What happens when the fame fades a little bit and you’re the only one left standing? Can you recover or will you fall apart at the seams instead? Is it also possible to properly adapt a Broadway musical into a hit film on the big screen without corrupting the source material as well? Unfortunately, Eastwood’s valiant effort to the last question proved to be a futile effort since “Jersey Boys” had more misses than hits in this popular Broadway story. Sure, he managed to compare some of the details from the time period just right, but he also failed to capture other elements as well.
“Jersey Boys” followed how Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) was a talented young singer living in New Jersey who dreamed of making a name for himself. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to make his mark on the music industry after a series of missteps. With the help of his trouble-making friend Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), Frankie appeared to be going in the right direction as his self confidence started to grow. He did have a very close call when he was younger when he was arrested with Tommy for being a look-out when Tommy and another friend tried to steal a safe. After the two men got out of jail, Tommy decided that they were going to include Frankie in their failing musical group that really needed a strong lead singer. They ended up recruiting Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) who was also a talented singer-songwriter that could help create some dynamic hits for the group, but they were having a hard time coming up with a decent name for the group when a sign literally lit up for them that led them to choose The Four Seasons. With the help of a record producer (Mike Doyle), the group was able to climb to the top of the record charts. Sadly, the strong onslaught of success was something that none of them were prepared for. Tommy’s gambling debt worsened to the point where it could sink the group financially. Loyalties divided the group as Frankie and Bob were working on a separate partnership that could destroy everything if the other members found out about it. Frankie’s personal life also started to take a toll on him as well when his marriage to his wife (Renee Marino) fell apart to her drinking problem and him being on the road too much. He also had to contend with his troubled relationship with his daughter as she tried to break into the music industry. Will Frankie be able to bounce back after so much turmoil or will he fall apart from it.
In terms of questions, the movie’s biggest one was its choice of movie director because Clint Eastwood wasn’t the most logical choice overall. He was known for making that often had an overly dark and serious tone that was the total opposite of the Broadway musical source material. Eastwood’s version of the story was one part drama mixed with other parts “Goodfellas” and the occasional song or two to keep things going. The story also piled on way too many movie cliches that made it hard to fathom why the story was so popular to begin with. The plot formula followed the group’s humble beginnings, the bright lights of their success, and their inevitable destruction. The story’s structure sounded more like a “Behind the Music” episode than a Hollywood musical than anything else. Not even Christopher Walken’s dynamic presence could save the film from falling victim to the movie stereotypes and focusing on telling everything when sometimes less was more. Even though Young’s Frankie was charming to watch, the story focused way too much on his character when it should have focused more on the group as a whole than with excessive storylines about one character. It would have been nice to see where Piazza’s Tommy ended up after his exit, but the ending slightly touched upon that as well; it wasn’t a total loss in the end. The movie didn’t need to go into great length about Frankie’s personal tragedies, or even his solo career for that matter. The story could’ve briefly touched upon those things before diving into the group’s decades later reunion which was only minorly touched upon just before the end credits started to roll. It’s a shame because the reunion scene could’ve simply ended with the four guys patching things up before heading to the stage rather them getting on it one last time.
As for breakout performances, Young, Piazza and Walken led the pack for very different reasons. Young’s Frankie was designed to be the movie’s heart, but the character often felt like a distant enigma than its ultimately moralistic center. He managed to capture Valli’s innocence and his performance capabilities without inpersonating him just like he did on Broadway. Young’s strongest scene was when Frankie was struggling from a profound personal loss and lost the ability to function. He was sitting alone in a diner not thinking about what came next from him when a song landed in his lap that needed to be fixed. Young gave Frankie a level of optimism when he decided how it could be fixed and that he wanted to perform it as well. There was also a follow-up scene where Frankie was performing that song like it was his last chance on stage, which also ended up being Young’s strongest musical perrformance overall as well. Piazza, on the other hand, had the challenging task of being the movie’s resident rebel without any regard for the consequences. He also served as the movie’s often lively tour guide as he navigated viewers through his world and how the group managed to keep going for so long. It was a shame that Piazza wasn’t truly able to wrap up Tommy’s storyline in a way that didn’t make it look like he simply fell off the face of the earth, until it was necessary for him to return to the fold. Ultimately, Walken’s performance was pretty much a brief cameo of sorts but he proved to be the strongest performer that didn’t have to say very much to prove a point. There was one scene where Walken’s character was so moved by Frankie’s performance that he literally shedded a tear afterwards. Okay, the reaction might’ve been extreme, but Walken somehow managed to make it look convincing.
Verdict: Eastwood managed to capture the overall tone of the story, but he also seemed to miss the elements that made it a hit on Broadway as well.
Movie Score: 2 out of 5 stars
Movie Rating: R
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)