Third act troubles mar one of Clint Eastwood’s best movies, an adaptation of the hit showbiz musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Jersey Boys. Events are rejiggered so that the triumph (the 1967 smash “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”) can come after a sketchily and half-heartedly directed tragedy.
Yet the movie succeeds. Eastwood brings it home with a nearly no-star cast; its one star, Christopher Walken, playing Gyp DeCarlo, a well-mannered mafia don, is Oscar-bound. Watching Walken’s jaw tremble while he listens to Valli sing about mother love, we view not only one of the best actors alive, but also see Eastwood sparing us overpraise for the Four Seasons’ music.
The Four Seasons’ white doo-wop, inescapable in the 1960s, had an eerie jet-age glaze on it—in these mixes, with the archaic keyboards, you think less about Johnny Ace and all the other black doo-woppers excluded from this picture, and think more about Joe Meek over in the U.K. The debut of “Sherry” on American Bandstand is greatly evocative: Valli’s rich chilling wail, the cramped studio blocked by a clunky TV camera, a waxy Dick Clark paralyzed behind his podium.
Valli is played by John Lloyd Young as a man so uncomplicated that he’s slightly mysterious, a workaholic who sacrifices himself for his shady partner (Vincent Piazza of Boardwalk Empire). He’s instantly likable. The down side: we don’t see enough of the debuting Renée Marino as Valli’s tough wife.
Snipers have been describing this as an overlong Behind the Music episode, but it’s more like an engrossing oral history of a band’s rise and fall, with conflicted perspectives and old hurts. The direct address to the camera works well, sometimes brilliantly. Beyond the Jersey metaphysics, there’s something deep and tangy and downbeat here, countering the hysterical ebullience of the tunes. At heart, it’s a musical about overwork and debt.
‘Jersey Boys’ opens Friday across the North Bay.