[alert-announce] Verdict: 3 out of 5 stars. The hit jukebox musical from Broadway gets the celluloid treatment by veteran filmmaker Clint Eastwood. Jersey Boys may not be the most inventive musical film nor is it the most poignant of Eastwood’s works but there’s emotional depth and the music is enjoyable. [/alert-announce]
I grew up listening to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons on my dad’s records and my first brush with the Jersey Boys was at a slick live production in West End, London some years ago while on a magical vacation in the UK. Both memories are hard to beat and it’s really the curiosity of seeing a musical film directed by that cinema icon of alpha masculinity and jazz enthusiast Clint Eastwood, which piqued my interest.
Turns out Jersey Boys is exactly that – a laid-back Eastwood drama with adequate singing, and sadly no surprises.
Scripted by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who also wrote the original stage musical, Jersey Boys traces the rise and eventual break up of The Four Seasons told from the perspectives of the members of the group Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Bob Gaudio, and Nick Massi. Each character takes turns to occasionally break down the fourth wall and shell out intimate details at the pivotal moments in the group’s journey, a device reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950) and Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990).
In spite of the group’s talent and the passion for music-making, familial troubles, run-ins with the mob, and clashing egos split them up and they would only reunite 25 years later at The Four Seasons’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
There’s a sort of easy flair to Eastwood’s filmmaking style, a signature tone that is present in Jersey Boys but this casualness may not necessarily be the best approach to a music-centred biography of a smash hit doo-wop band from the ‘50s. Of course, you can’t resist the toe-tapping effect of timeless classics like Sherry, Walk Like a Man, Big Girls Don’t Cry and December 1963 (Oh, What a Night), but the renditions in the film aren’t as energetic as they could have been. These well-loved tunes are performed by the cast honourably but the sequences don’t feel very immersive or imaginative, which can be a bit of a buzzkill.
It almost seems like Eastwood exercises restraint at the wrong moments. Where the music sequences lacked that theatrical pizzazz, several of the film’s dramatic moments are uninhibitedly clichéd, particularly whenever Frankie argues with his increasingly estranged wife and the suspiciously superficial depiction of their married life.
But to be fair the film has its genuinely tender moments too, which are largely driven by Frankie’s unwavering loyalty to his band brothers and his loving but dysfunctional relationship with daughter Francine.
When he sings to her My Eyes Adored You as a lullaby, you’d have to be made of stone not to feel the slightest stir in your heart. And after he lost her to delinquency and drugs, Frankie threw himself into the work again to stave off the pain. Cut to the scene in which one of the songs crafted from this period of struggle is being recorded – when we realise it’s the seminal Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, it undeniably becomes one of the most moving moments in the film.
It has to be said here that the entire cast performs admirably but lead John Lloyd Young’s portrayal of Frankie Valli leaves much to be desired which is odd. Odd because Young is in fact among the original cast members from the Broadway musical so one would expect the role to fit him like a glove by now. He has a wonderful voice that decently captures Frankie’s famous falsetto but other than that, Young’s performance is unmemorable and at times rather awkward.
Someone who easily stands out is Vincent Piazza, the only one from the singing quartet who did not originally play his character on stage. Despite Tommy DeVito’s exasperating frailties, Piazza smoothly incorporates charm, swagger and nuance to the role. Christopher Walken, as the mafia boss Gyp DeCario who has a soft spot for Frankie and his “angelic voice”, is a class act as always!
Jersey Boys is a pleasant film – it feels like old school entertainment that might serve those who are feeling nostalgic. But it is also an uninspired spin on the musical film genre and lacks the thematic layers that make Eastwood’s previous directorial efforts poignant. So if you want to skip down memory lane, you’ll find plenty to love in this film but if you’re looking for something new, there’s none of that here.
Jersey Boys is now screening in theatres. Have you seen it? Let us know what you think in the comments section below!