Film review: Joy and tragedy intertwine beautifully in ‘Jersey Boys’

Film review: Joy and tragedy intertwine beautifully in ‘Jersey Boys’
From left: Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young), Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), and Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) in director Clint Eastwood’s “Jersey Boys.” Photo by Keith Bernstein

A beautifully composed melody of happiness and heartbreak, Clint Eastwood’s splendid adaptation of the Broadway smash hit “Jersey Boys” is music to the world’s ears.

Based on the Tony Award-winning musical of the same name, “Jersey Boys” chronicles the early days of the four young men from the wrong side of the tracks — Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi, and Bob Gaudio — who formed the 1960s rock group The Four Seasons.

As they leave their New Jersey neighborhood behind and achieve the American Dream they’ve always wanted, they encounter problems along the way that result in the band’s break-up.

Eastwood paints a clear picture of this quartet at different stages throughout their rise to fame; he leaves no detail — major and minor — untouched and allows the singers to speak for themselves.

His pointed direction doesn’t drain “Jersey Boys” of vitality, nor does it damage its tone, which alternates between joyful vivacity and solemn tragedy. The way I see it, his painstaking juxtaposition of their lives and their music makes for a much more attention-grabbing film.

In his pursuit to shed light upon the rise and fall of The Four Seasons, Eastwood gives his characters room to breathe by breaking the fourth wall — a bold move that, in the hands of a less capable director, could cost the film’s credibility.

With Eastwood in charge, however, this device fleshes out each band member’s perspective on their roots, success, and troubles, instilling an emotive interactivity in “Jersey Boys” that will captivate audiences from the get-go.

Not for a split second does the film lose sight of what’s important — the drama behind the clean-cut suits and the renowned hit singles — even if it means starting off slow to see where these scrappy, rough-and-tumble Jersey men came from, and progressively picking up the pace as their fame and fortune bring them unexpected predicaments. It’s sad but true, and Eastwood refuses to shy away from the mistakes these band members made and the trials their bond faced.

No story about The Four Seasons can be told without the right persons to humanize their triumphs and ordeals, and I’m happy to report this film has plenty of good acting from a cast consisting mostly of talents from the Broadway stage production and national tours.

Many of the faces seen aren’t recognizable, but, rest assured, each and every one of them hit the right notes without fail.

John Lloyd Young imbues lead vocalist Frankie Valli with vibrant emotion, effortlessly embodying his struggle to live his dream and handle the ensuing rough consequences. Vincent Piazza brings an ambitious confidence to Tommy DeVito that works in his favor, especially when it creates big defeats for the band.

Michael Lomenda effectively balances Nick Massi’s inner frustration with his good ear for vocals. And as Bob Gaudio, Erich Bergen has this quiet arrogance about him that goes hand in hand with his character’s songwriting savvy.

Last but not least, those memorable songs have this immediate pizzazz to them, creating performances that exude genuine feeling. Landmark favorites such as “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “My Eyes Adored You,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” and “Rag Doll” are guaranteed to enrapture audiences as they did me, and the relatable lyrics and infectious melodies never leave you even after you’ve left the theater.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to the original Broadway cast recordings, which, up until now, have served as my only connection to the famous jukebox musical.

I haven’t seen a stage production yet, but considering what Eastwood has accomplished in his impressive treatment of The Four Seasons’ story, I hope to do so at some point in the near future.

And perhaps there are a good number of you out there who yearn to see the wonder and misfortune that The Four Seasons experienced in “Jersey Boys.” If you’ve seen the musical before, you’re liable to enjoy what Eastwood’s film has to offer.

And if you haven’t, then prepare yourself for a terrific rags-to-riches journey, with great music included as well.

MPAA rating: R for language throughout

Run time: 2 hours and 14 minutes

Playing: In general release

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