‘Jersey Boys’ chase the music

Published 10:48 am Friday, July 4, 2014

By Chuck Lilley

One of the closing lines within Director Clint Eastwood’s latest film “Jersey Boys” appropriately sums up the movie. Aging central character Frankie Valli, played by actor John Lloyd Young, as the lead singer of the 1960’s rock and roll band The Four Seasons laments, “…like the Energizer Bunny, I just keep going and going….chasing the music.”

Unfortunately, the unfolding story of the lengthy music-based biopic rarely catches up with the band’s numerous hit tunes. Perhaps unfairly audiences have come to expect high-quality films from the talented no-nonsense director. His dramatic films, “The Unforgiven,” “Mystic River,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Space Cowboys,” and “Gran Torino,” received much critical acclaim and box office success. With “Jersey Boys,” audiences will leave wanting more music and less drama.

The movie is not a complete wash-out. Strong vocals from the well-selected cast allow the film to rock during performances (Eastwood insisted on live music takes) of many of the group’s hits, such as “Sherry,” “Rag Doll,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Who Loves You,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Working My Way Back to You.” The energy and vocal harmony of actors Young, Vincent Piazza as lead guitarist Tommy DeVito, Mike Lamenda as bassist Nick Massi, and Erich Bergen as keyboardist and song-writing genius Bob Gaudio, enable audiences to appreciate why The Four Seasons rivaled The Beach Boys and The Beatles in popularity during the 1960s. However, Eastwood too frequently interrupts these sonorous moments with laborious periods of the unfolding drama.

It is not that the story of The Four Seasons is completely uninteresting. The band’s nation-wide discovery from lawless, teenage roots to become one of the best-selling rock and roll groups of all time is both improbable and remarkable. The linkage of lead singer Frankie Valli with songwriter Bob Gaudio is fortuitous and leads to studio and audience recognition.

Skyrocketing fame, financial success, debt and overnight teen adulation, create personal and family struggles and generate ongoing friction among all four band members. Valli’s character flaws contribute to the personal problems of his wife and to the drug-related issues of a talented daughter and are heart-breaking. However, his Italian family grounding and eventual maturity allow him to admirably confront his many shortcomings and to responsibly attempt to balance career ambition with a desire for family happiness.

Today at age 80, Valli is happily entertaining audiences, and as evident by his rendition of “Can’t Take My Eyes of You” on last year’s “American Idol” finale, incredibly can still get the job done.

As The Four Seasons heart and soul, actor John Lloyd Young reprises his Broadway lead role. His falsetto is strikingly similar to Valli’s unique sound, and his strong on-screen performance justifies Eastwood’s casting decision (Young was not required to audition for the role). Christopher Walken is New Jersey mobster Angelo “Gyp” Decarlo who becomes the indispensable godfather to Valli. Walken again creates a believable character.

His song-and-dance versatility is also featured in the closing scene. Another notable performance is that of “Law and Order SVU’s” Mike Doyle as gay record-producer Bob Crewe.

It is a shame that audiences must wait until the last scene for one of “Jersey Boys” finest moments — the entire cast sings and dances to “December 1963” in grand Broadway style. Less drama and more music would have made for a better viewing experience. But considering Eastwood’s remarkable string of successful films, the 84-year-old director can be “forgiven” this once for the “Jersey Boys” aberration.

“Jersey Boys” is currently playing in most Hampton Roads theaters.

Chuck’s rating: three stars (out of five)