Movie review: Jersey Boys has catchy songs for all seasons

John Lloyd Young turns in a bland performance as Frankie Valli. -- PHOTO: WARNER BROS
John Lloyd Young turns in a bland performance as Frankie Valli. -- PHOTO: WARNER BROS

What is most likeable about Four Seasons biography film is not the cast but great tunes

Review: Drama

JERSEY BOYS (NC16)

134 minutes/Now showing/***

The story: The biopic of the pop group The Four Seasons begins in the early 1950s, when young men Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), Francesco Castellucio (later known as Frankie Valli, played by John Lloyd Young) and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) are best pals who regularly get into scrapes with the law. The aspiring musicians are looked after by mob boss Gyp (Christopher Walken). After recruiting the fourth member, the songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), the group start their climb to chart success.

Those who saw the live version and its South African cast when they played in Singapore will find everything here very much as they saw it last year.

You would think that with a decade- old stage production that, while popular, is nowhere as iconic as, say, Les Miserables, the freedom to re-interpret for the screen would be used to the hilt.

That leeway could have been used to trim the lethargic middle section, when a wearying amount of attention is paid to the group's internal squabbles, all carried out in typical (or rather, stereotypical) melodramatic Italian-American fashion.

Director Clint Eastwood trains his lens on the hand-waving and shouting in a flat, matter-of-fact way. One can almost hear him thinking: Well, that's how it was on stage, and these people do, in fact, talk like that.

A more cinematic eye would also have helped set the context for the story. It is delicious to think of what someone like Martin Scorsese would have done with the 1950s-1960s setting, a period when doo-wop groups such as the Four Seasons, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and others set the charts on fire, only to fade as the tide of rock 'n' roll surged. Montages, social context and showing the forward movement of time through imaginative editing - the narrative cried out for the depth of perspective that these cinematic devices could have given.

Perhaps Eastwood's hands were tied. This is, after all, the approved biography, signed off by the living members of the estate. Credit must be given to showing off the crime-tinged background of the group's most important members.

The telling of the group's story is largely episodic, but that disjointed feeling is reduced somewhat by the enduring central relationship in the film, the loving but fractious one between Valli (Young) and DeVito (Piazza).

As characters, Valli is bland and DeVito obnoxious. The most likeable element in the film is not the people but the earworm-quality songs which, even after all this time, sound fresh and irresistibly catchy. You will hum Sherry for hours after the credits roll.

johnlui@sph.com.sg

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