Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys photo starrating-2stars.jpgGod help the filmmaker that attempts to adapt a jukebox musical from the stage into a filmed movie. At its most basic, that type of production relies on previously released popular songs for its score. A success will enthrall a music lover who wants to hear a lot of beloved songs strung together in service of a loosely defined plot. Singin’ in the Rain (1952) is sort of an example of that, but it originated as a film first. The jukebox musical on Broadway is a newer phenomenon. Examples date back to the 70s but it wasn’t until the 90s that the phenomenon really exploded. The triumph of Mamma Mia!, both as a performed play and as a movie really caused the trend to break out. Despite the film‘s huge box office, I still find it absolute torture to sit through. And I enjoy ABBA‘s music. Ditto the movie version of Rock of Ages, another bit of theater based on 70s hair metal bands. What works in a live Broadway show setting doesn’t usually translate so well into the film medium.

The Broadway smash Jersey Boys is the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. From working class roots to hit making sensation on the charts, their story made for a lively, if somewhat predictable musical detailing an Italian-American success story. How a nice sweet boy named Francesco Castelluccio became Frankie Valli. John Lloyd Young reprises his Tony award winning role. Joining Frankie are local bad boys Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda). The group finally reaches its hit making potential with the addition of keyboardist-songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen). They’re guided under the direction of producer Bob Crewe (played by Mike Doyle).

Clint Eastwood’s adaptation is so devoid of life it would be better suited to a mausoleum than a cinema. There is no joy in the narrative, just a mundane checklist as it applies one cliché after another on the group’s rise to the top: angry wife at home, check, infighting within the group, check, conclusion at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame complete with (horrible) old age makeup, check. Everything is presented at arm’s length as if the audience is observing an accident from afar. The Four Seasons rise to popularity is presented in the most blasé fashion as if the group expected to become a household name. Where is the joy in becoming stars? Even their parents, who play an important part in the early scenes, are never involved once they become famous. Later the Four Seasons appear on American Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show. Each event is presented like just another gig. It doesn’t help than the acting is rather bland, only really coming alive during those musical numbers. The best performances here are interesting for their camp value. Mike Doyle as flamboyant record producer Bob Crewe, gives a particularly swishy performance and Renée Marino as Frankie Valli’s wife is unintentionally funny when arguing with her husband. They’re both animated at least which is a lot more than I can say for the rest of the film.

It’s clear that Clint Eastwood doesn’t understand the first thing about making a musical. He grossly mishandles the source material. What made the original such a joy was the wonderful plethora of hit songs from the Four Seasons, not the generic Behind the Music-style story. Eastwood highlights the weakest aspects of the play while de-emphasizing the music. The elephantine length clocks in at 2 hours and 15 minutes, but it feels twice that long. It is a laborious chore to sit through. It’s a full hour before we even hear a recognizable Four Seasons song. Granted the singing is the best part. That’s because the music is inherently good. But the musical numbers are realized with all the excitement of a trip to the dentist. They should be lively and innovative. Instead the actors come out, hit their mark, sway while they sing and leave. This is a movie for goodness sakes. You could do things here with color, lights, effects, to punch up the production that you can’t on the stage. Music videos take advantage of this fact, why can’t this movie? There’s one example of that spirit in the whole picture. It happens at the end as they are rolling the credits. Oh what Bill Condon or Baz Luhrmann could have done with this material.

06-22-14

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37 Responses to “Jersey Boys”

  1. Thorough write up Mark. It appears my money is better spent watching something else.

  2. garylee828 Says:

    I was expecting Eastwood being such a seasoned actor and director to do something refreshing and exciting with this movie; maybe he should stick w/ sports films and dramas in which he does exceptionally well. Oh well, I guess he can say he tried and now knows musicals isn’t his forte. He’s done so many classics that he gets a pass for turning in a dud once in a while. 🙂

    • Well J. Edgar, his last film, was even worse. I’d have to go back to Gran Torino to find a film I really thought was a classic.

      • garylee828 Says:

        Gran Torino was pretty good, but would have been better had Eastwood taken some more time to find a stronger actor than the kid he was mentoring. lol. Like Mel Gibson did with Nick Stahl in “The Man Without A Face”. Gibson discovered a young gem. Stahl is actually a pretty versatile actor. He was good in “In The Bedroom” and truly creepy in “Sin City”.

      • garylee828 Says:

        Oh yeah, I actually didn’t see “J Edgar”. I was never really interested in it; looks like I made the right decision.

        The thing about Eastwood directed films you can almost always expect a tragic ending; he’s one of the best directors in the business, but I am always hesitant to watch his films b/c of the gut-wrenching endings – like Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River and A Perfect World. All great films, but the endings will stay with you for days after; you’d be better off popping on “Dumb & Dumber” or something like that immediately following the ending and just washing yourself of the depression. lol.

        A Perfect World is in my top 15 favorite movies list. Loved it. So great! But so damn sad.

      • I need to re-watch A Perfect World. I barely remember it but my recollection was that it was just ok.

      • garylee828 Says:

        Honestly, when I watched it for the time first time when it came out in 93, I thought it was only okay, too; then i watched it a few years later when I was a bit older and I liked it a great deal more.

  3. Nice review. Clint Eastwood’s been very hit or miss as of late unfortunately. I’m not a fan of the Four Seasons so I’ll pass on seeing this.

  4. I’m disappointed for Eastwood, but perhaps it is a little way out of his comfort zone. This sounds like Dreamgirls which had a plot that bored me to tears, but the music was pretty good. I’m not a big enough fan of the Four Seasons to go out of my way for this, but I guess I was hoping for something along the lines of The Sapphires which was a pleasant surprise.

    • I’m glad you mentioned The Sapphires, a little seen Australian musical film that was just wonderful. Not the most innovative story either, but the narrative had life.

  5. This is a shame, and even though I have absolutely no connection to this movie whatsoever I’m always interested in these kinds of jukebox musicals. But this doesn’t sound like a good choice at all. And the running time sounds absolutely ridiculous.

  6. I would rather poke my eye out with a fork… but I really hate musicals so I’m definitely the wrong audience.

    • garylee828 Says:

      I don’t want to watch this, either, but I think I’d prefer watching it to poking my eye out. lol.

    • This will make you hate them even more. You really have to go back to an earlier era for the good ones. The 1940s to the 1960s saw the best. Few musicals today get it right.

      Enchanted and Hairspray are modern versions of what Hollywood used to do on a regular basis.

  7. Didn’t do much at all with its story. It had some musical numbers, but mostly, it was just a drama. And a lame one at that. Good review Mark.

  8. Hmmm, seems that Eastwood is a hit and miss in his directing efforts. That said I give him props for tackling so many different genres. I might give it a rent on a slow night but I’m in no hurry.

    • Eastwood is undeniably a talented director. However, one of the marks of a good filmmaker is to know your limitations and focus on your strengths. Nothing about his dark, heavy-handed dramas ever indicated that the guy was the right choice to direct a big splashy movie musical.

      Instead of embracing the fun of the play (I saw it twice on the stage) Eastwood tries to take the theatricality out of the it and add his signature grit. He destroys what made the musical great in the first place.

  9. Seems like a missed opportunity. So sad.

  10. Clint Eastwood should NOT direct these kind of movies. It was way too serious and bland. Saw the play twice and loved it. Everything was lively and serious parts of the play took a back seat to the great musical numbers. Not here, the seriousness took center stage. Not good. Only fun part of the movie was the final scene during the credits. 2 stars.

  11. Bill Condon would have been a far better choice to direct this. It is quite devoid of energy.

    I don’t think I hate it as much as you, but I definitely don’t like it either.

  12. Wow. Like me, you had a serious distaste for this film haha. All of your grievances are so well articulated and spelled out that I literally can’t think of anything else to add. Everything you had a problem with bothered the heck out of me too. What a joyless, boring adaptation. Blech.

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