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(NEW YORK) -- Directed by Clint Eastwood, Jersey Boys is an adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Broadway show of the same name. Like that show, it documents the rise of the legendary pop group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. But as this movie musical makes clear, the group that brought us feel-good hits such as “Sherry” didn’t have it easy when it came to navigating the rough and tumble world that was the music businesss of the early sixties.
At the beginning of the film, 16-year-old Frankie Castelluccio, the man who would become Frankie Valli (played by John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony for originating the role on Broadway), is sweeping the floor of a barber shop where mobster Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken) is about to get a shave. Frankie sings while he sweeps, and Gyp sings along. The respected wiseguy asks Vito the barber (Steve Schirripa) to let Frankie shave him. Vito reluctantly agrees and gives Frankie a look, imploring him to be careful.
With a steady hand, Frankie gently places the blade on Gyp’s face and starts to slowly drag it down his cheek. Suddenly, the shop door bursts open to reveal one Tommy DeVito (Boardwalk Empire’s Vincent Piazza). The disruption causes Frankie’s hand to jerk, cutting Gyp. Vito recoils in horror, but the gentleman mob boss shrugs it off, saying, “What’s a little blood between friends? “ It’s a not-so-thinly veiled metaphor for the conflict that Frankie and his bandmates will endure, mostly at the hands of Tommy.
The narrative unfolds through the eyes of each group member, who occasionally addresses the audience during pivotal moments to tell the story from their perspective. We watch Tommy, a wanna-be gangster and hustler from New Jersey who’s good with a guitar, take Frankie, a 16-year-old street kid with the voice of angel, under his wing, and help turn him into a star by making him part of his band. But Frankie evolves as Tommy devolves, making bad decisions right and left.
Along the way, we meet Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), who becomes the third member of the Four Seasons, and we watch as little Joey Pesci (Yes, the real-life actor Joe Pesci, played by Joseph Russo) introduces Tommy, Frankie and Nick to Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), the fourth member, who wrote their biggest hits. These guys all share a bond: New Jersey. But is that bond enough to keep Frankie from turning his back on Tommy -- the man who helped make him a star -- even though he acts with reckless abandon and complete disregard for his so-called “brothers?”
Piazza, with plenty of on-screen credits, does a terrific job as Tommy, a man who’d like to hit it big as a musician, but who finds that old habits die hard. Scratch that: his old habits won’t die, period. John Lloyd Young, on the other hand, is an excellent Broadway star, but his acting here, at times, is a little flat, and he probably could’ve used some help from Eastwood. In fact, the best acting comes from the movie’s most experienced cast members, including Walken, who has a knack for making the mere act of breathing compelling. This gives the impression that Eastwood was hands-off in places where he should’ve been a little more hands-on. Still, the lack of Oscar-worthy performances doesn’t detract from the movie’s ultimate goal, which is to entertain audiences.
Ultimately, the real strength of Jersey Boys is how the Four Seasons’ classic pop songs -- including “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like A Man” -- are woven seamlessly into a screenplay that has some dramatic flaws, but makes up for them with charm, humor and heart.
Three-and-a-half out of five stars.
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