Review by Jane Freebury
Movie evergreen Clint Eastwood has recently been showing us other sides to himself besides the swaggering cowboy in buckskins that made him famous. The actor-director has long had a thing for music, however, and been heavily involved in soundtracks of the films he directs, often with son jazz musician Kyle. I don’t know if that makes him a natural choice for directing Jersey Boys, with its anthem of bright and bouncy pop hits from the early 60s, but it makes him an interesting one.
For those of us who missed the long-running stage musical, this is our chance to experience what it was like. We even get to enjoy John Lloyd Young as lead singer Frankie Valli, a role he has made his own in the stage musical, and he is joined on screen by actors from various other original stage productions. The stylistic asides to audience remain in the screenplay, also penned by writers who wrote the play and Eastwood himself has apparently tampered little with the package that’s been around a decade, though it is surprising that Eastwood hasn’t been more adventurous, a bit less stagey, and made it more his own.
This rags to not-quite-riches story, Jersey Boys, is of course the story of The Four Seasons, a big name in the 1960s. If you were from Jersey then in the land of the great second chance, you could either join the army, join the mob, or make yourself famous, but a pop band needed its gigs, which meant finding entree into the clubs and bowling alleys which meant you inevitably came into contact with the mob. The dark underbelly of Jersey is represented here by the creepy Christopher Walken, the sole star name, as crime boss Gyp DeCarlo.
In those early days of pop rock, a clean cut image mattered. How would you get a spot on the Ed Sullivan talk show or on American Grandstand if you didn’t pour yourself into a natty suit and flash a wide smile like the boy next door? But getting Jersey out of the boy, as Frank Sinatra also found, was easier said than done and it’s good to see that Eastwood has retained the tensions between the characters, their compromising backgrounds and their aspirations.
Who can resist a good melody? The highlights by far are the toe-tapping tunes that seem to work for Gen Y and their boomer parents. The Four Seasons had a surprisingly long list in their repertoire, and while Eastwood should have made the film more pacey, I was grateful that the songs were played out in full. And grateful that the lead Lloyd Young could still reach those falsetto notes even while the camera is trained on him in close up.
In a capsule: Exuberant 1960s pop hits strung together with the story of a band that hailed from the struggle streets of Jersey. A nostalgia trip, beautifully executed.