Do you feel lucky? Clint’s made a musical, but his Jersey Boys adaptation could prove a real surprise.
First things first. This article comes with a mandatory soundtrack.
Ignore the dodgy dancing, remember that that falsetto is not electronically modulated in any way, and behold one of the most significant, iconic, era-defining acts in pop music history. Jersey Boys, a retelling of the meteoric rise of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, swept through Broadway in 2006, winning four Tony Awards plus a Grammy for a cast recording that went platinum. And now, it’s being released as a film, directed by Clint Eastwood. And it will be awesome.
Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys movie looks like all the best bits of Goodfellas, interspersed with sequins and rumbly falsetto
The trailer, which you can watch above, is very promising. The Jersey Boys movie appears to be a jukebox-style musical, which incorporates musical performances and recording sessions rather than having characters randomly burst into song, and features the fourth wall-shattering of the musical, with lots of direct-to-the-camera monologues in thick Jersey accents; not surprising when you consider it was written by the same folks who created the musical. The chemistry between the characters seems bright and snappy, and it looks like all the best bits of Goodfellas, interspersed with sequins and rumbly falsetto. It’s a promising start.
That Dirty Harry himself is directing, however, has the potential to make this movie really extraordinary. The musical glosses over some of the seamier bits of the band’s early success – the only time the mob is explicitly mentioned is in relation to some oblique help from a gangster at the very beginning and band member Tommy DeVito drumming up some bad feelings with ‘loan sharks’. The reality was a bit rougher – Nick Massi was known for breaking chairs over the heads of studio execs who owed the band money, and the band was regularly arrested for holding up convenience stores when money was tight.
In later years, all the surviving band members have been honest about the environment they grew up in. Frankie Valli even played Rusty Millio in The Sopranos, in a role that “rang true“ to his experiences. In an interview with The Telegraph last year, Valli explained, “Where I grew up, in New Jersey, there was a lot of organised crime activity. It was a part of life.” Composer and fellow bandmember Bob Gaudio added: “I don’t think anyone who was in the entertainment industry in the 60s can say they’ve never rubbed shoulders with the Mob. They owned every other club you played in. I saw some pretty heavy things back then, and we almost bit the dust a few times. But it was always interesting.”
Character dramas are Eastwood’s strength, and a cracking cast offer hope for some analysis of ‘The Jersey Brotherhood’
Clint Eastwood has done fabulous work looking at how people are shaped by the enviroments they come out of. His 1992 film Unforgiven goes a long way toward taking a good hard look at the oft-romanticised realities of the Old West, looking at the frightening psychological impact of constantly being in charge of your own safety; the film won Best Picture and Best Director, along with a slew of other awards, at the Oscars that year. Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers explored the two totally different effects of the same battle (the Battle of Iwo Jima) on two different military forces. Eastwood’s seriously good at this.
On top of all that, tragic, character-driven dramas are Eastwood’s strength, and the cracking cast offer hope for some analysis of what DeVito in the film calls ‘The Jersey Brotherhood’. Christopher Walken has top billing as Gyp DeCarlo, who, in real life, ran the DeCavalcante crime family’s loan-sharking and gambling interests in New Jersey, and helped the band early on.
More on movie musicals: Here’s a handy beginner’s guide
Tommy DeVito, who spent a fair chunk of the 1970s on the run from the mob for unpaid gambling debts and suspicion of stealing from local gangsters, will be played by Tony Piazzo, who’s done sterling work in Boardwalk Empire as ‘Lucky’ Luciano, nailing the naivete and anger of young, hungry talent. It offers high hopes for what he’ll bring to this film as one of its most important characters. The film also has some serious ground to cover discussing how the once close-knit group of friends was torn apart by outside pressure, and Eastwood’s ease and fluidity with ensemble casts, on display in Iwo Jima, Invictus and Mystic River suggest he’ll handle it well.
The big question is: do we trust Clint to do a musical? They’re just so…happy, and, on-screen at least, Eastwood’s really not
The big question, I suppose, is: do we trust Clint to do a musical? They’re just so…happy, and, on-screen at least, Eastwood’s really not. But Clint has moved fluidly between genres before, and he’s been trying to get a musical off the ground for ages, initially developing a remake of A Star is Born that was shelved when Beyonce pulled out of the starring role. Musicals have been on a downward run recently (Rock of Ages was well and truly rotten), but Clint Eastwood has all the skill and understanding to give us a Jersey Boys with a bit more gravitas and just the grit it needs to be a truly wonderful story. We should be hopeful the film doesn’t come over all saccharine sweet, and instead gives us a sharp, relatable story about control and breaking out. Clint is just the man for that job.
More on movie musicals: Movie Resurrection: High School Musical
All images: Warner Bros