"Jersey Boys," rated R, 134 minutes, playing in Tavernier and Key West.
"Jersey Boys" tells the largely unknown true story of the rise, fall and rise again of Frankie Valli and the hit-making 1960s musical group the Four Seasons.
The film follows the band from the mean streets of New Jersey through their time at the top of the music charts, on to the group's breakup and their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Similar to the original play, each member of the group periodically breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience to give his side of the story.
Adapted from the Broadway smash and directed by Clint Eastwood, the film plays like one of the iconic group's hit songs -- it hits some really high notes but there are also a few low ones.
At the time they were producing hit after hit in the 1960s, the public knew very little about the band's background. Prison terms, mob connections, broken marriages, wild parties, loan sharks and even a then-unknown Joe Pesci were actors in the success and failure of the Four Seasons. It was only after the musical opened on Broadway in 2005 that people learned how close the group came to never making it -- and why it all fell apart later.
Most of the actors are relative unknowns.
Frankie Castelluccio (Valli) is played by John Lloyd Young, reprising his Tony-winning role from the Broadway musical, while Tommy DeVito, the self-appointed group leader, is played with wise-cracking bravado by Vincent Piazza. Rounding out the singers are Erich Bergen as singer/songwriter Bob Gaudio, who wrote most of the group's music, and Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi, the deceptively calm bass singer.
Mike Doyle is fun to watch as Bob Crewe, the flamboyant record producer who helped develop the group. And viewers are treated to the always-entertaining Christopher Walken, who obviously had fun playing Gyp DeCarlo, the group's supportive Mafia friend.
Like any musical worth the price of a ticket, the high notes almost all come from the music. From the first time the boys perform an impromptu version of Gaudio's "Cry For Me" right through to an odd closing number during the end credits, the music is the star.
Among the low points are the odd Jersey accents of the band members, which is a distraction for the film's first few minutes. Some of the accents seem practiced rather than natural and it takes a while for viewers to get used to the Jersey-ese intonations.
Late in the movie during the Hall of Fame induction scenes, the aging of the singers is not convincing at all. Thankfully, Eastwood never lets the camera linger too long on close-ups of the less-than-perfect makeup jobs. Also distracting is that financial trouble the boys get into is never fully explained, leaving viewers to wonder where all the money went.
It's Eastwood himself who hits the lowest note. Frustratingly, "Jersey Boys" capture any of the thrill and excitement Valli and Co. must have felt from selling 100 million records.
Sure, the boys are driving new Cadillac convertibles and wearing fancy clothes. But what's missing is the exhilaration, the joy and wonder of what it must have been like to have five No. 1 hit records in a row and the fame and adulation that came with that.
Fortunately, just when the story gets a little slow and boring, along comes one of those catchy pop tunes and the film gets back on track.
Their musical legacy is nothing like that of the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, but the Four Seasons were a musical force in the early and mid-1960s that the X- and Y- generations know only from oldies stations.
Still, while not terrific, not terrible, sometimes dull yet at times inspired, this surprisingly emotional film will resonate with baby-boomers.
If this film has its a message, maybe it's just to remind us that whether it's Jersey Boys or Beastie Boys, music is the soundtrack of our lives.