NEW FILM REVIEW: Jersey Boys ***
At first glance Clint Eastwood, director of Unforgiven (1992) and Million Dollar Baby (2004), would seem an unusual choice to make an adaptation of the Tony Award-winning musical about the rise of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons during the 1960s. Yet, one looks at his resume to find he is also the same person who directed Forest Whitaker in the excellent Charlie Parker biopic Bird in 1988. Movie fans also recognize that Eastwood is an accomplished pianist and composer, as well, often writing scores for his own films. So, taking that into consideration, it's not so far-fetched to find this particular film maker behind the camera on this project.
The big-screen version takes its cues from its stage origins, complete with characters speaking directly to the audience to tell its story. This gimmick shouldn't work, but somehow it does. We are shown the story in flashback to the days when Frankie Valli went by his given name Francesco Stephen Castelluccio. Like many singers of the era, Castelluccio was inspired by the success of Frank Sinatra, whom his mother took to see as a child at the Paramount Theater in NYC. Along with his friend, small time hood and fellow musician Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) they form a band, but struggle to hit it big. After a series of band names, and the addition of songwriter Bob Guadino (Erich Bergen), they become The Four Seasons and begin to have success with hits like "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man."
In spite of this upward trend, the band begins to unravel, as Tommy jeopardizes the group's financial stability by secretly going back to his criminal tendencies and other personality clashes occur. Some of these disputes are moderated, at Frankie's request, by local mob man and uncle figure Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken). Added to this mix is Frankie's increasing neglect of his familial responsibilities, which weighs heavily on Valli when tragedy strikes.
None of these story elements are particularly new, as countless rags-to-riches musical biographies attest to, but there is much to be entertained by. The film is colorful without being overly flashy, and touching without being overly sentimental. Director Eastwood finds the right balance between musical enthusiasm and dramatic restraint. It works. The cast, many from the original award-winning stage production, offer convincing portraits of eager and ambitious musicians who meet that inevitable break up moment. While some of that is cliche, the reason for the film's existence is the music. Here the film offers plenty of toe-tapping sequences, and will likely leave the viewer wanting more.