Doesn’t it feel odd when a fall movie is shuffled in the middle of the summer movie season? I’m fine with big and loud movies releasing outside of the crowded action summer months. Also, as proven by The Fault in Our Stars, sometimes a summertime drama can be refreshing. But, I just can’t shake the feeling that Clint Eastwood’s latest film, Jersey Boys, was meant for a September release.
Jersey Boys is an adaptation of the popular Broadway musical based on the career of The Four Seasons, specifically Frankie Valli. We see the film from several perspectives as Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) brings his friend, Frankie (John Lloyd Young) into several of his performing trios. Jersey Boys gives us the picture that organized crime and finding fame in New Joizy (based on the characters’ accents) are completely entwined. Finding jail time happens just as frequently as finding a nightclub gig. Their random acts of music and crime continues as the band is joined by bass vocalist, Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda). In their attempt to somehow find success on the radio, they recruit lyricist Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen). He writes the songs that put Frankie’s voice on the map and the band finds incredible success thereafter. However, one of the bandmates gets them into insurmountable financial trouble and the Four Seasons drift apart from each other.
Broadway musicals work because the energy of the performers and the songs take you away. Often, the canned jokes, stilted dialogue and the outright silliness of it all is forgotten because they’re just fun. This is why modern musical adaptations usually fail to connect. The Jersey Boys musical might be loads of fun as the audience gets a chance to sing along with “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Sherry.” Sadly, none of the fun translates to the film. The pacing leaves you constantly guessing, and not in a good way. The entire first act is dedicated to the grueling beginnings of the band, with very little music featured. You basically meet all these Jersey characters that are impossible to connect with. It feels like the cast of Gangster Squad tried to remake Goodfellas. Not good.
The second act starts strong and almost manages to make you forget about how bored you are. This is where the music starts and rarely stops. The movie should have focused on this excitement throughout. There’s a serious problem when the movie has hit its prime within the first hour, only to slowly fade away for the remaining 74 minutes.
You never quite feel that the bandmates are at the peak of their careers. There always manages to be underlying tones of somberness. It’s almost as if the actors were told to act drab and undeserving at all times. Jersey Boys is a risky movie because the cast is largely made up of unknown actors and veterans from the stage play. Christopher Walken is the only recognizable actor. He doesn’t need to do much to steal every scene he’s in. John Lloyd Young gets plenty of screen time to show the different sides of Frankie Valli. He’s fine, but it’s Erich Bergen who shows the most potential. He is basically a young man’s Michael Shannon.
Each of the Four Seasons has a chance to break the fourth wall and speak to the audience. It’s interesting to see how each of them narrates a certain part of the band’s story, while it’s only from their skewed perspective. The movie also uses these asides to tell tongue-in-cheek jokes to the camera. This may have worked well for a live audience, but feels forced on screen.
Basically, this is a bizarre adaptation of a musical that should have stayed a musical. It tries to follow the overly serious tone of the docu-drama Walk the Line. However, the emotional core is missing.
The music in Jersey Boys is great. If you’re a fan of The Four Seasons, this is worth a watch on DVD. Sadly, there is too much melodrama that outweighs the quality songs. Also, at 2 hours 14 minutes, this drab movie feels twice as long. Classic musical fans won’t like this because of the coarse language. Serious bio-pic fans won’t appreciate the poor pacing and poor writing. C-