Movie review: Jersey Boys (15A)
Musical/drama. Starring John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Christopher Walken, Freya Tingley, Mike Doyle, Joseph Russo. Directed by Clint Eastwood.
Jukebox musicals, as they're known, have exploded in popularity in the past number of years. Acting as a dramatised greatest hits concert, everyone from Abba to Queen have had the Broadway/West End treatment, and while the risible 'We Will Rock You' is yet to make it to the big screen, 2008's star studded 'Mamma Mia!' has an enormous fan base and resides firmly in the 'so bad its good' file.
'Jersey Boys,' the multiple Tony-winning story of the early days, success and eventual break-up of rock'n'roll legends Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons has two things going for it that no other musical has before: the words Clint and Eastwood.
The legendary director may not be the first name that springs to mind when you think of musicals, but 'Jersey Boy' is no 'Mamma Mia!' or 'Rock of Ages.' It tries to be a lot of things all at once. Too many things at some points maybe, but it's an entertaining tale that when you strip away the costumes, the setting and the songs, is an old story about friendship.
First off, it's not strictly a musical. Only at one point do the characters break into song apropos of nothing; the rest of the songs appear as the group perform on stage, led by arrogant wise guy guitarist Tommy DeVito (Boardwalk Empire's Vincent Piazza) and working their way up from singing in local clubs to touring the nation as the Four Seasons.
The opening act feels more like a gangster movie as DeVito and Frank Castellucio (John Lloyd Young), later to be known as Frankie Valli, rip-off safes. Only when they meet songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) with the help of a young Joe Pesci (yes, that Joe Pesci) do they find the sound they're looking for and the success they strive for.
But it's not long before DeVito becomes a thorn in the side of the band he helped create and the more famous the band gets, the deeper the divide between him and the group becomes.
'Jersey Boys' is at its best during the lengthy and numerous musical sequences. When Clint takes the time to focus on back stories about Valli's troubled marriage and the band's money problems, the film can get a bit lost sometimes, struggling under the weight of its own intentions.
Each of the characters breaks the fourth wall at different times to offer the audience their own take on the band's history but it adds little to the story.
That said, the entire cast is uniformly excellent (especially a show-stealing performance from Mike Doyle as flamboyant producer Bob Crewe) and when we return to the stage you find yourself excited about what's about to come. Jukebox musicals aren't for everyone but 'Jersey Boys' is definitely one everyone can enjoy.