Movie review: ‘Jersey Boys’ mixes old songs and a stale story
Review • Good music, tired pacing in musical biography.
Published: June 24, 2014 11:04AM
Updated: June 20, 2014 05:40PM
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This photo released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows, from left, John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli, Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio, Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito, and Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi in Warner Bros. Pictures' musical "Jersey Boys," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (AP Photo/Courtesy Warner Bros., Keith Bernstein)

Like the Broadway musical that spawned it, the movie “Jersey Boys” might be something your elderly aunt might enjoy.

Filled with the familiar tunes of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons and driven by an equally familiar plot structure, the movie is a stagey and overly self-conscious look at the roller-coaster career of Valli and his cohorts.

The story is told largely in the voices of Valli’s comrades, often speaking directly to the camera. First we hear from Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), a wiseguy and occasional felon who first creates a music trio. Another in that trio is bassist Nicky Massi (Michael Lomenda), who, like Tommy, knows the revolving door of the New Jersey correctional system.

It’s Tommy who enlists his straight-arrow pal Frankie Castelluccio (played by John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony for this role on Broadway) as a lookout and lead singer. Frankie changes his last name to Valli just as he’s about to become a star.

Frankie’s pure voice and gorgeous falsetto draw two noteworthy admirers. One is Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), a songwriter and keyboardist who joins the band and becomes Frankie’s lifelong creative partner. The other is Angelo “Gyp” DeCarlo (Christopher Walken), the local mob boss who becomes Frankie’s protector.

Screenwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elise, who also wrote the book for the Broadway show, string together incidents that sound — to quote one of Gaudio’s lyrics — just too good to be true. As the movie tells it, a repaired neon sign provides the band’s name, The Four Seasons, while an offhand comment from their record producer, Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle), inspires the hit “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” And so on.

The musical numbers are well-staged and beautifully sung by Young, who makes an astonishing approximation of Valli’s amazing voice. But the songs often stop the narrative dead, since they are largely played chronologically rather than thematically (as in other “jukebox musicals,” such as “Rock of Ages” and “Mamma Mia!”).

Alas, as every fan of VH1’s “Behind the Music” knows, after the meteoric rise comes the tragic fall. With The Four Seasons, it’s a combination of family issues and financial problems that threatens the group’s downfall — in spite of New Jersey loyalty.

Director Clint Eastwood isn’t as odd a choice here as you might think — considering he’s a music fan who has already directed a musician’s biopic (“Bird,” in 1988) and co-starred in “Paint Your Wagon” (1969). Eastwood appreciates, better than most, the splash Valli’s voice made in American pop music, because he was around to hear it. (He even cracks a joke about his age, inserting a clip of himself from the ’50s Western “Rawhide” on a hotel TV.)

But Eastwood can’t enliven a stodgy musical that plays better onstage — where Young’s singing can win you over and make you forget that a 38-year-old actor is trying to play a character who ages from 17 to 56 in just over two hours.

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‘Jersey Boys’

Clint Eastwood directs this slow-moving adaptation of the musical story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons.

Where • Theaters everywhere.

When • Opens today.

Rating • R for language throughout.

Running time • 134 minutes.