[Screen It]


(2014) (John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza) (R)

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Drama: Members of a 1950s and '60s era band try to become the next big thing and must then contend with the results of their success as well as various interpersonal issues between them and others.
It's 1951 and Frankie Castelluccio (JOHN LLOYD YOUNG) is a 16-year-old aspiring barber with an amazing falsetto singing voice. He's so good that he's drawn the attention not only of neighborhood mafioso Gyp DeCarlo (CHRISTOPHER WALKEN), but also that man's driver and small-time criminal, Tommy DeVito (VINCENT PIAZZA), who leads a band that also consists of his brother and a few other guys. Tommy eventually invites Frankie and bassist Nick Massi (MICHAEL LOMENDA) to join the ever-evolving group, and even introduces Frankie to a more experienced woman, Mary Delgado (RENEE MARINO), who insists that he change his last name to Valli.

Tommy is less enthusiastic when a neighborhood acquaintance, Joe Pesci (JOSEPH RUSSO), introduces them to songwriter-pianist Bob Gaudio (ERICH BERGEN) who's recently had a hit song with "Short Shorts." He proves his stuff and joins the band that eventually becomes known as The Four Seasons, and things take off when they meet record producer Bob Crewe (MIKE DOYLE) who helps them score various number one hits. Yet, for their success, they must deal with various issues, including Frankie's wife dumping him, an act that along with Frankie's long absences, eventually results in their teenage daughter, Francine (FREYA TINGLEY), running away from home.

While Frankie eventually falls into the arms of reporter Lorraine (ERICA PICCINNI), Tommy's building debt to a mobster starts to unravel the group's cohesiveness, threatening to ruin their chart-topping success, a point exacerbated by Frankie embarking on a solo career.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
I suppose one could say it's the way of the world or something akin to music-related natural selection, but it's always amazing to see bands that once sold out 20,000 seat arenas now playing county fairs, or groups that were once huge now registering nothing more than a blank stare and a shrug of the shoulders from today's younger listeners.

You see, for every The Beatles and The Rolling Stones examples of bands that most everyone still knows (with the latter still performing after all of these years), there are countless others that have become mostly forgotten and will likely all but disappear as their fans eventually die off. Take, for instance, The Four Seasons (sometimes known as Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons).

People my age and older certainly remember them and their hits that included "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man" and "Oh, What a Night" among others that helped the group sell an estimated 100 million records worldwide, thanks in large parts to lead singer Frankie Valli's amazing falsetto voice. While the band is still touring (although Valli is the only original member among them), the last exposure most people had to the music was Valli's solo recording of the title track for "Grease" (and that was 36 years ago).

Then again, and working from a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, former member Bob Gaudio and record producer Bob Crewe tried to right that wrong by bringing the tale of The Four Seasons to the Great White Way in 2005 with the jukebox musical "Jersey Boys." The Broadway hit was nominated for eight Tony Awards and ended up taking home four, including Best Musical and Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for John Lloyd Young.

Despite now being 38-years-old (and initially having to play a 16-year-old version of Valli), the latter reprises that role in the new movie adaptation of the same name. Adapted for the big screen by Brickman & Elice and helmed by none other than director Clint Eastwood, the film tells the tale of the formation, rise and eventual derailing of the group that hit their zenith in the 1960s.

Although it follows the real-life trajectory (and expected ups, downs, highs and lows) of the group and an all-too common success arc that most such bands take, the downfall of such music biopics is that by now we've seen so many of these sorts of films that there are few surprises regarding the path and how things ultimately play out (even if I was surprised to learn of the involvement of a certain now famous but then unknown actor's involvement with the group). And as is the case with most such pics that cover a span of years, an episodic nature is inevitable and clearly on display.

Even so, the film works for the most part, though that's certainly far truer for the first half than in the second when the pic starts to lose its way and momentum wanes in favor of greater dramatic conflict. The better early parts, natch, focus on the formation of the band, mostly by the hands of Tommy DeVito (a terrific Vincent Piazza who serves as the pic's early, break-the-fourth wall and talk to the audience narrator), a charming wise-guy in the making who also fronts a band. He's aware of Frankie (Young nails the part) and his signature voice, much like his mafioso boss (Christopher Walken yet again having fun in a familiar but distinctive role) who likes the kid.

Along with bassist Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) and songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), the group settles on their final (for the time) lineup and then hit the big time once they hook up with flamboyant record producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle). The familiar hits then start rolling out and the pic is going full steam, mixing good music, bits of effective humor, and distinctive and engaging characters.

In the second half, feathers start getting ruffled and turbulent seas begin rocking the boat, all while Valli contends with an unhappy, alcoholic wife (Renee Marino) and runaway teenage daughter (Freya Tingley). While true to reality, such moments somewhat get the short shrift due to the episodic nature as well as Eastwood's signature shooting process that purposefully doesn't always strive for perfection before moving on to the next shot.

The result is things occasionally feel a tad sloppy, a condition that coupled with the change in tone and braking of the previously infectious momentum unfortunately lets a lot of air out of proceedings. Following the play's lead, Eastwood concludes with a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame reunion performance and end credits dance number that thankfully end things on a more upbeat (and toe-tapping note). While I have no idea if the film will reach enough audiences to cement the group in the public's eye and memory, the music certainly withstands the test of time. "Jersey Boys" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed June 16, 2014 / Posted June 20, 2014

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