Clint Eastwood brings the blockbuster Broadway musical to the big screen—with its great music and terrible language completely intact.
Francesco Castelluccio might've been a barber. He worked at a barbershop when he was a kid, sweeping up and taking notes. He even gave Gyp DeCarlo, a local underworld character, a shave—or did until he nicked the mob boss's ear. Gyp shrugged, saying, "What's a little blood between friends?" Still, Francesco didn't finish the shave.
Francesco could've been a smalltime crook, too. He, Tommy DeVito and another neighborhood wiseguy tried to pilfer a safe one time, with little Francesco serving as a lookout and driver. But the safe was so big and heavy that it lifted the auto right off its front wheels, and Francesco drove the thing into a store window. The judge let the kid off with a warning. Tommy got six months.
Francesco could've been a lot of things, I suppose. But he had other plans, and it seems those plans were shared. It's almost like everyone in Frankie's rough New Jersey neighborhood—Tommy, Gyp, the friendly beat cops—knew the kid was special. They figured Frankie might go places, carried by those stop-in-your-tracks vocal chops of his and blast-you-to-the-wall falsetto. "A voice like yours is a gift from God," Gyp solemnly told him.
Francesco Castelluccio might have been a passable barber and a horrible crook. But a singer? Yeah, Francesco—a guy who'd come to be known as Frankie Valli—might be able to pull that off.
'Course, fame doesn't just come for the asking. It takes work and perseverance, a little luck and a lot of help. The pieces, they all have to come together. And slowly they did for Frankie.
Tommy invited Frankie to join his band, which already included another Jersey boy, Nick Massi. Down the road they brought aboard pianist/songwriter Bob Gaudio, the first member hailing from outside the old neighborhood. They named themselves The Four Seasons. They played small-time gigs. They signed a record contract as backup singers. Drip by drip, the chances came.
Then, in 1962, The Four Seasons hit pay dirt with "Sherry," a song that took all of 15 minutes to write and spent five weeks topping the charts. After more than a decade of work, the lads from New Jersey made it big, it seems. Frankie Valli's climb to stardom was complete.
But his story wasn't. In a way, it was just beginning. There was more work to be done.
It can take time to learn to walk like a man. A lifetime, occasionally. And it takes members of The Four Seasons longer than you might expect—or want.
As such, Jersey Boys can sometimes feel less like an aspirational story of finding fame and more a cautionary tale of its perils. For Frankie, fame and philandering take a devastating toll on his family. And while none of that is, of course, positive, he at least comes to see what sort of man he should've been—and does make an attempt to mend his ways, especially with his talented but wayward daughter, Francine. "I believe in you," he tells her. "I'm glad you're here with me."
Fame and fortune almost ruin Tommy, too. While Frankie is the voice of The Four Seasons, Tommy is its leader, booking shows and handling the money. "Borrowing" half-a-million dollars from the band's tax account and taking out $162,000 worth of loans from disreputable (and violence-prone) loan sharks nearly undo him and his band. Again, not positive. But Frankie remembers how Tommy took him in and showed him the ropes when he was younger, and he agrees to take on all of Tommy's debts—even though it takes our "hero" years of humiliating work to pay them off.
There are subtle references to faith throughout this saga, though its influence on behavior seems nearly negligible. Frankie's parents are Catholic, and we see a clock with side-by-side pictures of the Pope and Frank Sinatra in the Castelluccio home. Frankie attends a Catholic funeral. He and a couple of other people break into a cathedral so they can sing and experience the acoustics. A nun—shown swigging some communion wine—calls the police and has them escorted out.
Tommy calls Frankie's parents "holier than thou," and the band is told to get going "before Jesus gets back." Someone tries to guess someone else's zodiac sign.
At a Christmas party, Tommy "gives" Bob a woman to lose his virginity with. We don't see the act, but Tommy and the rest of the party walk in on the bathrobe-clad couple afterward. Bob tells Tommy that he was right—"It is more fun with another person." There's further talk of Tommy also setting up Frankie's first time.
Frankie meets a girl named Mary (who's wearing a low-cut dress). The two flirt and kiss … and later get married. It's a union, though, that prompts Tommy to say "marriage is not love." And, indeed, Frankie and his pals bed quite a few beauties. (Their activities are visually suggested with images of cuddling in cars, and Frankie explains that they've all got girlfriends on the road.) When asked how old they are, two amorous girls coyly respond, "Separately or together?"
Mary is furious with Frankie's philandering, ripping off her wedding ring and throwing it on the floor as she tells him that he can stay on the road for all she cares.
He does, it seems, later getting intimate with a reporter named Lorraine. We see them in a hotel room together, Lorraine in bed in lingerie. It's implied that they share an apartment.
Bob Crewe, The Four Seasons' producer, is known to be gay, and amid quips about Liberace, we hear a veiled reference to the man's boyfriend.
One hoodlum appears to shoot another in Frankie's car, with Frankie at the wheel. The supposed murder is really just a scam, but we see the "dead" man's face covered in "blood." On TV, a woman gets slapped across the face (twice). Frankie takes a swing at Tommy. Folks threaten one another frequently, with varying degrees of seriousness. Frankie smashes a coffee cup against a wall. Tommy cracks up a chair to make an angry point. Someone dies.
Crude or Profane Language
More than 40 f-words and nearly 30 s-words mar the movie if not always the music. Other curses include "b‑‑ch," "d‑‑n" (twice used with God's name), "h‑‑‑‑," "pr‑‑k" and "p‑‑‑." God's name is misused another few times by itself, as is Jesus'.
Drug and Alcohol Content
When Tommy comes to pick up Frankie, Frankie's parents warn them away from drink and drugs. But practically everyone, it seems, drinks and smokes here. A great deal of the action—be it song or conversation—takes place in bars, nightclubs and parties. We see people down wine, champagne, beer, whiskey and mixed drinks, and they puff on cigarettes and cigars. Frankie's wife, Mary, has a serious drinking problem, with his daughter Francine telling him that Mommy sometimes drinks a lot of "medicine" and falls asleep on the couch. Years later, at age 17, Francine tries to smoke a cigarette in front of her father … and Frankie takes them away from her.
[Spoiler Warning] Francine is later found dead, and it's suggested that a drug overdose was the cause.
Other Negative Elements
Some of the guys in the band (Tommy in particular) regularly get involved in small-time scams and criminal activities. And all of them seem to have mob ties throughout their careers, with Frankie getting Gyp DeCarlo to serve as a buffer between the band and a scary loan shark. Thus, underworld goons and henchmen float about the periphery of the movie, sometimes helping Frankie get rid of rivals when it comes to wooing women (the heavies escort a gentleman out of a bar at one point) or bring his wayward daughter back to the fold. Thanks to Tommy's irresponsibility, the band gets tossed in jail for skipping out on a hotel bill. Tommy "fixes" bowling games and shows off a warehouse full of stolen merchandise. Tommy and Nick both spend time in prison, treating their stays as old home weeks.
Nick tells people that he once saw Tommy urinate in a sink because it was closer. We see someone else urinate in a bathroom.
"Work hard," Gyp tells Frankie. "Everything follows." And in Frankie's case, it's true. The singer works hard to make it big. His dreams, at least the musical ones, are soon realized.
But as sage as Gyp's advice is, there's an unspoken corollary: Don't work hard, and lots of stuff will follow, too.
Frankie and Tommy both worked incredibly hard to make the band a success. Had Frankie channeled some of that effort into his family, I have a feeling he would've had something special to come home to. Had Tommy devoted some of the same discipline to his spending habits that he did to his rinky-dink schemes, he and his friends all could've retired with unimaginable wealth.
We make choices in this life, and each choice we make comes with a cost.
It's easy to lose sight of this inherently bittersweet lesson in the midst of the movie's lively script and buoyant songs. The Four Seasons were rocked by turmoil and tragedy, and yet by the end, Jersey Boys comes off as a feel-good flick that'll have moviegoers whistling "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" or "Walk Like a Man" all the way home. And the movie's Broadway-esque close—where Mary spins back into Frankie's arms and old adversaries boogie together as the credits roll—reinforces the sense that all's well that ends well.
Such is the magical lie of movies.
And the film's creators also makes some discouraging choices. The foul language they included here is the biggest drawback. Some of the sexual situations are more than just a little discomforting.
Based as it is on a wildly successful Broadway show, perhaps director Clint Eastwood didn't have much of a choice. Moviemakers fiddle with popular source material at their peril. Still, while Eastwood's hard work shows, the choices he made also come with a cost: Yes, a moral cost for those who see his work, but also the outright loss of those discerning moviegoers who never will.