Bravo, Clint Eastwood! With “Jersey Boys,” the director moves away from his sometimes schlocky and often manipulative movies such as “Invictus,” “Gran Torino,” or “Hereafter,” and gives us a biopic as moving as it is entertaining. Like the Broadway musical, it’s a story of greed, success, fall and redemption, none of it unpleasant as the protagonists are young, gifted, and for the most part naïve.
In a first for movies reprising musicals, “Jersey Boys” casts the likable, gifted original Broadway actors instead of replacing them as is customary with silver screen stars not always comfortable or believable in song-and-dance numbers (think Meryl Streep in “Mamma Mia.”)
The boys in question are those who formed the wildly successful pop group, the Four Seasons. They start out as errands boys on the edge of the Jersey Mob, their only ambition being to serve and then emulate the higher ups in the hierarchy, mainly the Gyp (Christopher Walken who as always completely steals any scene he’s in).
What sets them on a different road is the charismatic presence of Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young), he of the instantly recognizable sweet falsetto, who will become famous as Frankie Valli, the lead singer—they weren’t called “front man” back then—of the group and then solo artist.
After the usual travails of sending out demos that no one in the record business listens to, trying to find sponsors, doing poorly paid gigs in smoke-filled third-rate venues, the group, going through a variety of names, finally breaks through and races all the way to the top. A few successful years follow marred by internecine fights, power plays and the financial shenanigans of member Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) that finally break up the group. Frankie Valli strides out on his own, along with his song-writer, co-singer Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen).
“Jersey Boys” could have been be a rehash of a hundred similar stories, but in Eastwood’s able hands, it is pure delight from start to finish, with excellent cinematography and the well-known tunes older viewers can hum to. I never stopped smiling.