Clint Eastwood is a legendary Hollywood figure with five Academy awards and a career spanning back to the 1950’s. The 84-year-old has worked as either a producer, director or actor with a resume so extensive, we ask you to go to Imdb to see. But for purposes of this story, what stands out are the number of music related films he’s done like, Honkytonk Man (1982), Bird (1988) and Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser (1989). His current project comes as director of the Broadway Play turned Hollywood big budget musical vehicle, Jersey Boys,
“I met Frankie Valli years ago in passing. I was never a fan of music from that particular era. I came along before all of that,” said Eastwood, at a press event at the posh Waldorf Astoria in New York City, attended by The Shadow League. “But I did like The Four Seasons a lot. I thought their music was far superior. ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You’ is a classic song. Their music was very energetic and they had great, fun songs.”
Attached to the remake of the 1937 film A Star Is Born, Eastwood was initially supposed to direct Beyoncé in the lead role. But Mrs. Carter dropped out in 2012, and the project languished. Eastwood points to this situation as being partly to blame for his work on Jersey Boys.
“When this came along, the studio had been flirting with the idea of doing this project, but they had passed on it. I was having lunch with the studio and asked them why they passed. It had been such a popular play and is still popular. There must be something there,” he said. “We decided to do this and set the other one aside. [Jersey Boys] was a lot more ready to go than the other project, which is still not completed satisfactorily, at least not in my mind anyway.”
A classic jazz fan open about not being into 1950’s rock and roll, Eastwood saw Jersey Boys numerous times before deciding to work on the film project.
“It seemed like something to do,” he joked. “It’s funny because I had never seen the play, but I had heard a lot about it over the years. Someone asked if I would interested in directing something like this and I said I would be interested in taking a look at it. I figured I better take a look at that because only in Hollywood will they give you the script to something else that’s already a hit. I saw three different versions of the play in New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas. I saw all these wonderful actors and I thought, ‘What a nice project.'”
“[Jersey Boys] was a wonderful stage play and it had a lot of excitement in it. I approached it more from a realistic angle,” he added. “There’s lots of things you can do in the movie that you can’t do on stage. They have to keep things moving and be very practical. We just tried to open it up and give it a certain realism.”
Jersey Boys tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons as they rose up from the mean streets of Belleville, New Jersey in the time tested American trope of thug-oriented individuals who see that their only way out of a life of crime (and untimely mob-related death) is to make it big in the music industry. Based on the Tony Award winning Broadway play of the same name, Jersey Boys stars Tony Award winning actor John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli, Vincent Piazza (Boardwalk Empire) as Tommy DeVito, Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi and Erich Bergen as the hilariously flamboyant Nick Massi.
Full of a relatively unknown cast, the story begins in 1953 as Frankie is fresh out of high school and unsure of what his next step in life will be. Known for singing in the neighborhood, only the locals are familiar with Valli’s signature falsetto. Genovese crime family member Angelo “Gyp” DeCarlo is his biggest fan. However, it is make it not long before we find Valli involved in petty theft shenanigans with friends DeVito and Massi. Both of the latter serve time at Rahway (NJ) State Penitentiary for their deeds. Breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the audience, DeVito sets the tone as he explains how prison acted as a revolving door for people from their predominately Italian-American community.
Most of the early narrative in the film is done by Piazza’s roles as DeVito. Though speaking directly to the audience is somewhat frowned upon in motion pictures, the frank and quintessentially Jersey manner in which he speaks is worth more than a few chuckles early on. “Tommy DeVito’s character says in the movie, in order to get out you either get murdered, get mobbed up or you become a superstar,” said John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony Award for playing Frankie Valli on Broadway. “In the movie, we add a little twist to that because with us it’s two out of three. I think there’s a specter of desperation to get up and out. Tommy is like a big brother that helps Frankie [Valli] get on stage, but Frankie doesn’t have an ego. He has ambition and a talent but he doesn’t necessarily know how to get it out there. This guy sort of breaks walls down and gets things out. So Frankie relies on the brawn, ingenuity and craftiness of Tommy to get their music out. He really needs him. I think that that’s the seed of their relationship.”
The roster of the group morphs early on. Nick DeVito eventually leaves the music industry opening the door for Bob Gaudio to join. The quartet renames themselves the Four Lovers before eventually becoming the Four Seasons, a name taken from a bowling alley the group was thrown out of after the owner realized DeVito was running scams. Gaudio goes on to write the 1962 hit single “Sherry,” setting the boys off onto a life of stardom, or so it seems. Their climb is coupled with fights to save family, inner group turmoil and illegal drama.
Eastwood’s biopic about the life and times of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is entertaining, but not his best work. Enjoyable to watch early on, it drags in areas – especially where the group irritatingly breaks the fourth wall. Some of the New Jersey accents are fake. And although Astoria, Queens born Christopher Walken has a penchant for stealing any scene he appears in, his character was only in the film for short stints. Still, the entire starring cast does an excellent job in bringing The Four Seasons to the full screen, making Jersey Boys one for those who like music, Broadway, and a Clint Eastwood stamp of approval.
The Shadow League gives Jersey Boys a B-.