by Adam Riske
Why do they never show a band actually creating a hit song from scratch in music biopics? Don’t we want to know how the greats became great? Those questions are just an example of the myriad problems in Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation of the hit Tony Award-winning musical Jersey Boys. This is one of the most generic music movies I have ever seen. What should have been a buoyant melodrama is instead a dour slog.
The plot in brief: Four young men from New Jersey (don’t worry if you forget; they will remind you) come together to form the now iconic group The Four Seasons. We follow the group from their humble beginnings to their success, eventual breakup and reunion.
As for the rest of the acting, it’s hit and miss. Vincent Piazza is quite good as Tommy DeVito*, the original band leader until Frankie Valli’s talent became too much to deny. He reminded me of a young Joe Mantegna. The performance is affected, which suits the material, but it is effective. Michael Lomenda is also solid and nicely understated as the “Ringo” of the group, Nick Massi. The scene between him and Christopher Walken when Massi leaves the group is among the movie’s highlights.
Not as successful is Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio, the man who wrote/co-wrote the group’s biggest hits. Bergen’s performance is the most stage-bound of the quartet and he’s saddled with some of the worst fake facial hair to ever don the silver screen. Surprisingly, the least successful performance pound for pound (mostly because it gets the most screen time) of the Jersey Boys is John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli. He’s superb in the music performances, but the dramatic moments all feel false. He’s not an expressive actor on film, which turns into a huge distraction. He seems equally effected by the highs and lows of his life. There’s a key scene where Valli loses a family member and Lloyd Young’s acting choices are more appropriate for a guy who lost his wallet.
Not to pile on even more, but holy shit is the makeup bad in this movie! The finale catches up with the boys at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1990 and the old age makeup ranges from resembling a tired Tom Cruise to the Ronald Reagan puppet in the Genesis “Land of Confusion” video. And it’s shown in close-up with the actors breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience. It’s the stuff of nightmares. If you can enjoy the end credits sequence -- which is out of tone with the rest of the movie, complete with gangsters dancing -- then you are easier to win over than I am. I get that it’s approximating a curtain call in a stage musical, but it just looks silly in a movie complete with a freeze at the end from all of the actors before the screen goes black and the credits continue.
*Fun fact: According to the movie, the band was partly brought together by Joe Pesci. Yes, THAT Joe Pesci. An actor even plays him in the movie and, in a funny character choice, is constantly chewing on a toothpick. Does the name Tommy DeVito sound familiar? That’s because it’s the same name as the character Joe Pesci plays in Goodfellas. It’s not the same guy (Tommy DeVito was used as pseudonym for a real life gangster named Tommy DeSimone), but it’s the same name. In other words, the Four Seasons did not kill Billy Batts.