Early on we meet Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young), a high school kid who’s been hanging around with what his parents consider the wrong crowd. Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) is a small-time hood with a singing group and a penchant for getting into trouble. Eastwood keeps the energy level crackling as he shows how Castelluccio becomes Frankie Valli and how DeVito’s Variety Trio eventually morphs into The Four Seasons. It’s not an easy path, especially given DeVito’s gambling problem and mounting debts. Gangster Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken) offers the group protection and financial assistance due to his love for Valli’s singing. A young Joe Pesci (Joey Russo), of all people, helps turn Tommy on to Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), a musician and songwriter who joins the group and ends up writing their hit songs.
Screenwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice adapted their own stage play and, at times, the seams show. With its loan sharks, gangsters, and the occasional intervention of law enforcement, the film plays a little like a dark crime drama during certain stretches. But there’s no real grit. Everything feels a bit stagey and theatrical, especially the multiple, fourth wall-breaking narrators (an element held over from the stage). Once The Four Seasons hit the big time with the help of producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle) and start churning out hits, the plot begins to feel more like a series of heated arguments punctuated by the occasional musical performance sequence. It’s hard to develop much sympathy for Valli and the rest of the group because none of them is presented as a fleshed out character.
Part of the problem is that The Four Seasons weren’t really game changers in the music scene. Sure, they recorded a lot of indelible hits and Valli is one of pop music’s great voices. But they weren’t innovators, resulting in an inherent lack of drama within the story behind their music on its own terms. They didn’t bring anything particularly new to the landscape, despite the high quality of their songs material. Maybe that’s why Eastwood never bothers to show a full song performance (except for the awkward, all-cast dance number as the credits rolls), though that also feels like a poor choice. The crux of their story really seems to revolve around the question of why on Earth the other group members allowed themselves to be under the thumb of DeVito for so long, allowing his gargantuan money problems to become their problems.
Warner Bros. presents Jersey Boys in high definition with an eye-pleasing transfer that emphasizes the intentionally desaturated colors in Tom Stern’s cinematography. Presumably to enhance the film’s period feel, most of the film’s non-musical sequences offer a dulled look bathed in a mildly soft-focus glow. It’s impeccably clean and looks terrific. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is exactly what any Four Seasons fan could hope for, with the musical numbers packing a lot of punch and a “live” immediacy.
Special features are surprisingly light, with only a few featurettes shedding light on the making of the film. “From Broadway to the Big Screen” is the main attraction and it’s an illuminating look at which actors were members of the various stage productions (both Broadway and the touring companies). “Too Good to Be True” focuses on Christopher Walken’s portrayal of Gyp DeCarlo and the character’s relationship with Valli. “’Oh What a Night’ to Remember” details the staging of the big closing credits musical number that united the cast for a celebratory finale. The Blu-ray package also includes a standard DVD and Digital HD download.
Casual fans of The Four Seasons are likely to learn a lot they didn’t know about the band and the interpersonal relationships between its members. At 134 minutes, however, it might feel a bit tedious at the same time, with its endless in-fighting and overall emotionally-distanced tone. There’s not much joy in Jersey Boys, but for those prepared for a moody, sullen musical ride it’s ultimately worth the trip.