Making the audience wait for almost a full hour before giving them a complete song seems like torture.
But the style he adapts, a VH1 “Behind The Music” look and feel, works terrifically well.
Translating musicals to the big screen has had varied success over the years. Mama Mia, Hairspray, Rent, Lez Miserables and Chicago have all made the leap. And all had shortcomings because of the medium.
It’s a calculated risk. A built-in audience has seen the stage version, so you want to stay true to the original production within the confines of moviemaking.
In that regard, Eastwood’s decision was both bold and smart to use Jersey Boys vet John Lloyd Young to essay lead singer Frankie Valli (nee Castelluccio).
His familiarity with the role brings an unexpected bag of riches to the film. Interestingly enough, Eastwood asked Young to play Valli five years after he stopped performing the role on Broadway.
The rest of the group, Vincent Piazza, Michael Lomenda and Erich Bergen, are brilliant as well.
Telling how the band came to be is handled marvelously well, but it’s not till the boys meet Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle in an inspiring performance) in the famed Brill Building do the wheels begin to spin.
Doyle’s over-the-top portrayal of the rather-theatrical Crewe (which could have turned to a one-note parody) is a tightly wound, nuanced performance; it could well be the picture’s highlight.
There’s also a hint of the David Chase/Martin Scorsese gangland Jersey connection; including a character named Joey, who turns out to be Joe Pesci!
Christopher Walken’s portrayal of gangland-don Gyp De Carlo is brief, but wonderful. Walken is the one actor who should have been in Chase’s HBO hit “The Sopranos” and wasn’t!
There are hints of Ray Charles biopic “Ray” and Johnny Cash picture “Walk The Line,” but Eastwood has balanced a finely-defined narrative. He often breaks the fourth wall by having a character directly address the audience, but it’s a brilliant effect.
Once the band starts succeeding, the four personalities begin to drift their separate ways. Only Valli and Crewe form an alliance.
Along the way Tommy DeVito meets loan-shark Norm Waxman (a spot-on Donnie Kehr) and begins to borrow money which will ultimately force him from the band.
Broadway-vet Kehr delivers an astonishingly strong performance; no doubt due to his involvement with the play since its inception in La Jolla, Calif., under original-director Des McAnuff.
Kehr, in fact, is the only member of the cast to have been involved with the play since day one, and it shows.
The script by book writers, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice is solid and provocative. Again, their familiarity with the show is a major plus.
And, the music, what can you say other than their hits are classic. “December 1963 (Oh What A Night),” “Sherry,” “Walk Like A Man,” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” are all classics.
The climatic third act and a reunion scene at the band’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony add a nice coda to the film.
The scene is terrific and is fraught with real emotion; it could well be the best group scene in the movie. Eastwood cuts of their younger days are a magnificent moment.
Is Eastwood’s version a success? Unquestionably!
Sure, it won’t please everyone, but as an accurate record of the group, it’s positively spot-on. The tag line: “Everyone remembers it how they need to” is the key to the movie.
Don’t miss this one; it could well be the surprise of the summer.