Clint Eastwood's movie never quite captures the magic of Frankie Valli.
It was at the age of seven that I received my very first record player along with a box set of songs from the Walt Disney catalog. It was one of those perfect gifts you always remember. I played those records nonstop. But after a year of having to listen to endless marathons of “Bear Necessities” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, my beleaguered parents gave me a dollar and begged me to go buy a new single. They were probably expecting something like “Crocodile Rock” or “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” I came home with Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells from “The Exorcist.” What can I say, I’ve pretty much always been who I am.
The problem, as you might imagine, was that my mother was still in shell-shock from having just seen “The Exorcist” at the theatre, so she wasn’t too keen on having Oldfield’s eerie music start up unexpectedly in the middle of the night. It wasn’t too long before she went to the closet and pulled out a crumbling cardboard box full of hundreds of 45s she had collected over the past few decades and told me I was sure to find something good if I just took the time to go through them all. My true lifelong love of music began that day as I placed needle to vinyl. Now, I can’t remember exactly which song I played first, but I’m pretty sure I can recall which one I immediately played twice in a row; “Sherry” by The Four Seasons.
The sound of that record hit me like a truck. While I understand that Frankie Valli’s falsetto isn’t for everyone (my wife, who turned out to be named Sherri, by the way, insists that it’s whining, not singing), I immediately took to it. And hearing his voice combined with Bob Gaudio’s catchy pop songs and Bob Crewe’s polished production, well, I thought I had stumbled across something magical. And apparently I’m not the only one. After “Sherry” hit the airwaves back in 1962, The Four Seasons became a phenomenon. Frankie and the boys released hit after hit, with only The Beach Boys and The Beatles matching them for record during the early 1960s.
Heck, even if you don’t like them, you have to admire the sheer number of hits The Four Seasons churned out. “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Rag Doll,” “Walk Like A Man,” “Dawn (Go Away),” “Let’s Hang On.” And don’t forgot Frankie Valli’s later solo work or the stuff from the group’s resurgence during the disco era. You could easily put on a whole show of nothing but The Four Season’s greatest hits.
Which is, of course, exactly what they did when the jukebox musical “Jersey Boys” hit Broadway in 2005. Packed with over twenty of The Four Season’s most beloved songs, “Jersey Boys” chronicles the journey of the original four members from their beginnings as struggling musicians and part time hoods to their rise to superstardom to their eventual implosion. I’ve never seen the stage production myself, but it won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2006 and is still playing in sold-out theaters nine years after its debut, so I assume it must be pretty good. And now the legendary Clint Eastwood has brought the musical from the stage to the big screen.
If only I liked it as much as I wanted to. Don’t get me wrong, “Jersey Boys” is a good movie in a lot of ways. Tom Stern’s cinematography is great and makes all the set pieces from the 1960s look authentic. The acting is mostly well done, with Vincent Piazza’s turn as Tommy DeVito, the wiseguy of the group, being the standout. John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli isn’t too bad either, although he doesn’t quite manage to carry the full weight of some of the more emotional scenes. Christopher Walken shows up and plays–Christopher Walken, which is fine as it helps give the film some of its breezier moments.