This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 6th July 2014
Would you believe, Clint Eastwood has made a musical! Of sorts.
Sure, there’s singing and a bit of dancing, and audiences who stream into the cinema high on the memory of the Jersey Boys stage show they saw last year will be rewarded with plenty of familiar musical numbers. But it’s largely an acty, talky movie which charts the rise and strife of four lads from 1950s New Jersey who fulfilled that age-old American dream of making it big in show business.
If the name Frankie Valli doesn’t immediately ring bells, you can guarantee his distinctive falsetto has often provided earworm fodder over the last half century. Raised in the type of working class household familiar from films such as Goodfellas, Francesco Castelluccio (as he was known pre-stage name) used to knock about with his pals, engaging in petty crime and periodically entering the “revolving door” of the local prison to atone with their sins. But Frankie had a voice, and soon the whole pop-listening world would know it.
Apart from 1988’s Bird, his biopic of jazz legend Charlie Parker, this is Eastwood’s debut as a musical director (though he has dabbled in music documentaries). And it ain’t no Chicago or Les Mis – here the songs are instead reserved for in situ stage performance rather than a West Side Storyesque soliloquy. And actually, it’s all the better for this – instead Eastwood has focussed on the story behind the evolution and disintegration of The Four Seasons, with Valli (played by John Lloyd Young who’s been with the stage cast of Jersey Boys for years) centre-stage, but all four of the Seasons narrating to camera at one time or another.
The core four are delightful, energetic from the very opening scene until the 137th minute (remarkably, it doesn’t feel too long), supported by a smattering of hilarious performances including Christopher Walken (naturally – he’s a song ‘n’ dance man from way back) and a career-enhancing role for Mike Doyle as their producer.
Despite the attempt at seriousness via the muted colour palette and swear-ridden, crime-tinged story, Eastwood’s musical is sure to entertain.