Greetings again from the darkness. Two upfront disclosures are in order. I have never seen the mega-smash Broadway show, and I’ve always been a huge fan of The Four Seasons’ music. These are pertinent because they impact one’s reaction to the film version.
Director Clint Eastwood says he knew immediately he wanted to bring the Broadway show to the movies. In fact, his decision to cast 3 of the 4 main stage actors proved crucial in this successful transition. The rags-to-riches story of four guys from New Jersey is not only true, but it’s believable because they scrap and battle just like we would expect. The mob ties are on full display, as is the struggle to maintain any semblance of normal family life while on the rocket ship to stardom.
John Lloyd Young is spectacular as the great Frankie Valli. While I fully anticipated cringing during the songs, his voice never once faltered. He is clearly the main reason the Broadway show (he won a Tony award) and the movie work. Erich Bergen plays songwriter Bob Gaudio and Michael Lomenda plays bassist Nick Massi … both are solid. The only crack was in the casting of Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito. Piazza is well known from “Boardwalk Empire“, but he is just a bit too slick as the guy who scammed the other band members, digging a massive hole of debt – mostly to a mob loan shark named Norm Waxman (played by Donnie Kehr in an excellent performance).
Other support work is provided by Mike Doyle as record producer and all-around flamboyant guy, Bob Crewe; Renee Marino starts strong as Mary (Frankie’s future wife) but is given little to do (other than booze and yell) as the story progresses; Joseph Russo captures the quirks of a young Joe Pesci, who introduces Gaudio to the band; and the always entertaining Christopher Walken slightly underplays local made guy Gyp DeCarlo who is instrumental in protecting Frankie in those early years … proving that in Jersey, Talent = Respect. It should also be noted that the band’s accountant is played by Barry Livingston, who you might remember as Ernie from “My Three Son’s“.
Eastwood is now 84 years old and he wisely takes a pretty conventional route with the film version. In fact, the argument could be made that since it doesn’t have the edge of most R-rated movies, taming the language could have resulted in a PG-13 rating, making it more accessible to families. The screenplay is from Marshall Brickman (Annie Hall, Manhattan) and Rick Elice, also co-wrote the book for the musical. This movie has not been popular with critics and it’s probably because of this relatively safe approach to an entertaining and fun story. It’s not cutting edge cinema, but if you enjoy The Four Seasons music, you will enjoy the movie.
***NOTE: Two surprising notes on cameos: Clint Eastwood makes a brief appearance on a TV set showing an episode of “Rawhide” where he portrayed Rowdy Yates; but the bigger question is WHERE WAS FRANKIE VALLI? After numerous appearances on “The Sopranos“, and being listed as here as an Executive Producer, it seems working Mr. Valli into a scene would have been a nice tribute … or, as reader Goldy suggested … how about showing actual Hall of Fame induction footage at the end?
***NOTE: If you are in the mood for a different type of Christmas song this year, check out The Four Seasons version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” … always one of the more challenging sing-alongs!
watch the trailer: