Probably needless to say, the marketing for the film wasn't what it should have been. Maybe they thought they could glide on the wave of success of the stage musical...which wasn't the case. Despite the lackluster enthusiasm for the movie, I did see some casual reviews by people who said it was good - different from the stage musical, but still good. And finally, I got to judge for myself.
At first glance, I was glad to see that the main characters weren't big film stars who would distract from the roles they played, but Christopher Walken appearing at the beginning was enough of a distraction. (Not that he was bad in his role, nor did it actually affect the quality of the movie.) I really liked the casting choices for the Four Seasons members. With the majority of them familiarizing themselves with the roles through being in stage productions (with the exception of Vincent Piazza, who played Tommy), there was an air of naturalness to playing these characters, and their natural singing abilities contributed dramatically. Overall, I liked the direction of acting. It fit the style of the movie, and it took the relationships of the characters to the next level.
For anyone who has seen both the stage musical and this film, there is no doubt that the atmosphere is much grittier in the latter, making it come off as a drama, not a bouncy, award-winning musical...and I think it worked really well, although I wonder if this contributed to the movie's lack of attention. They weren't afraid to drop the f-bomb throughout, helping the story's realistic flow. Again, while I admire the movie's seemingly lack of concern for being restrained by MPAA ratings, I have to wonder if its R-rating (for language) affected its popularity.
Something that threw me off was the variation of the narratives, which is strange because the stage musical utilized the same technique, and it hadn't stood out to me then. In the special features of the disc, they mentioned how they wanted to let the different stories of the characters to speak for themselves, since each of the characters had their own versions. I'm unsure if this was how it was approached in the musical as well. I'm thinking that this was just one of those techniques that didn't translate to film well, and I also wonder if it needed better transitions.
At the end, there is a big finale where the Four Seasons start singing, then the rest of the characters in the movie appear on the street to sing, dance, and have fun. This wasn't a bad way to end a musical, but it did feel off for the kind of film this was made into. Before the finale, the characters meet up again when they are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is a happier tune than what went on previously. Somehow, the stage musical, even with its serious moments, feels light-hearted, and the finale could work for that, yet the movie didn't achieve that, making the finale feel unnaturally light and carefree.
After thinking about it for a few days, I really did like this movie. (I like to mull these things over for a bit to see whether or not the stories and themes are something that stick.) Whether you're a fan of the stage musical or not, I'd recommend you pick this up.