Jersey Boys follows in the traditions of two recently popular types of movies: musical biographies (Ray, Beyond the Sea, Walk the Line) and jukebox musicals (Across the Universe, Mamma Mia!, Rock of Ages). While it struggles to come to life as the behind-the-scenes story of the rise and fall and rise of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, it dazzles the screen whenever it breaks into one of the band’s dozens of hits.
The narrative of Jersey Boys follows Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young), Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), and Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) as they form a rocky team in the early ‘60s and struggle to stay together as loan sharks and mobsters circle their success.
Being adapted from the hit Broadway musical of the same name, Jersey Boys separates itself from similar, Behind the Music-type movies by having each of the four singers taking turns breaking the fourth wall. The device should wear out its welcome quickly, yet by toggling between each of the four band members’ perspectives, it keeps the movie from dying of its own pace.
Many of the scenes of turmoil within the group and the family drama of Valli and DeVito fail to really become interesting, leaving several stretches of the movie with no momentum save for the inertia of Jersey Boys’s songs. Thankfully, the soundtrack of hits keeps the movie chugging along well enough.
“Sherry.” “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” “Walk Like a Man.” “Candy Girl.” “Rag Doll.” “Working My Way Back to You.” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” “Who Loves You.” “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night).” It’s easy to forget just how many smash oldies came from the band in their short career, and it makes for a fantastic soundtrack. The four actors sing marvellously and Young, in particular, uncannily captures the seemingly inimitable falsetto of Valli. (Young, Lomenda, and Bergen each have years of experience already from having played their respective characters on Broadway.)
Director Clint Eastwood clearly has a fondness for the time period and it’s certainly thanks to him that the troubled film production finally got traction, but despite his personal interest in it, Eastwood struggles to find the right tone for the movie. One gets the feeling he was enjoying watching the scenes so much he forgot to give any direction, leaving the film to amble about for too many pointless scenes that are filmed quite flatly.
When Jersey Boys tackles its heavy drama, the pace of the film grinds to a slow crawl. When the movie works in the moment, though, it’s a fun piece of entertainment that will leave you bouncing in your seat and humming some of the classic tunes on your way out of the theatre. As a musical biography, it’s simply okay, but it’s one hell of a catchy jukebox musical.