Rated: R for language throughout. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: June 20, 2014 Released by: Warner Brothers
New Clint Eastwood jukebox musical set in early 1950s New Jersey based on the Broadway smash looks at the inter-relationships of a four-part harmonic group doesn't rise to the level of his involvement of say Paint Your Wagon or more recently Bird which starred Forest Whitaker (Lee Daniels' The Butler).
Yet, Jersey Boys starring John Lloyd Young (reprising his stage role), Vincent Piazza, and Christopher Walken are among a capable ensemble in the chronicling of a rise and semi-fall of 'Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons'. Each participant gets their chance to provide voice-over while facing the camera. An understated nostalgia is the iconic auteur's necessity to adhere to biopic convention with no show stopping sequences as in Chicago or Dreamgirls which arguably had the same amount of confidence with the material but employed it with more pizzazz and panache.
Local troublemaker, indebted Tommy DeVito (Piazza) and childhood pals Frankie Valli (Young) and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) have a connection with the underworld via protector/mentor Gyp (a welcome Walken). Success comes their way as a band from aspiring actor friend Joe Pesci (Joseph Russo) gets them to meet with songwriter Bob Gaudio (an impressive Erich Bergen). A succession of hits puts them on a path (not unlike what was depicted in films like That Thing You Do! or The Commitments) but burgeoning strife puts the hot quartet in a precarious state.
This behind-the-scenes nature of the script as experienced and varied as Eastwood is in the genre (he tackled J. Edgar to diminishing returns) doesn't really delve into the story like Rob Marshall and Bill Condon did with unique focus and set-pieces to accentuate disparate, yet turbulent periods. From the link to the crime syndicate nothing perilous appears to be at stake and beyond surface terms it's hard to palpably find honest feelings besides say the director's saucy cameo in the ilk of a master like Hitchcock.
Adhering mainly to what has prospered winningly on stage obviously allows for well-performed songs like Rag Doll, Walk Like A Man, Big Girls Don't Cry and Sherry. And, an interestingly affecting if difficult choice on the use of My Eyes Adored You with daughter Francine when one considers some of the lyrics could be off-putting to some viewers given the time frame of the ballad's actual release. Jersey Boys even with some genuinely tender scenes proves more frustrating as the mostly ecru desaturated palette from longtime collaborating lenser Tom Stern belies the color and flavor of tale more suitable and capable in its limited context (maybe like the recent Not Fade Away) more wispy than wide-reaching.