Based on the Tony Award winning Broadway jukebox musical that I thought was alright about the musical group who sang what would be used as my wedding dance song, the Hollywood adaptation of “Jersey Boys” feels more like a “Behind the Music” biopic of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
Directed and produced by Clint Eastwood, “Jersey Boys” documents the rise of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and its signature sound while exploring the in-fighting and struggles associated with their fame. Visually, “Jersey Boys” is pretty good with its attention to the scenery, costumes, and swagger of Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young, the first to star as Frankie Valli in the Broadway version of “Jersey Boys) and the Four Seasons during their time period. The songs are sung well and almost match the soundtrack of the Broadway musical. Christopher Walken steals the film in the few scenes he has. The film manages to get the emotional rollercoaster in the second act of the film to hit much harder than the Broadway musical counterpart. “Jersey Boys” even has one of the best end credit sequences in recent films.
But despite such praises, the film version of “Jersey Boys” lacks a certain charm seen in its Broadway counterpart.
The Broadway version of “Jersey Boys” was pretty much expository talking head segments from each member of the Four Seasons telling his side of the story. On a live theatrical setting, these talking head segments that cut into the onstage action served as dramatic soliloquies and commentary. “Jersey Boys” then manages to charm with its smooth segues between scenes despite the limits of the theatrical stage and intercutting elaborate musical numbers of the Four Seasons' songs to match the acting and emotional tone of the onstage action.
The film version of “Jersey Boys” does the same talking head segments, but they're done in a jarring way that feel more like interview segments cutting into documentary footage. Several scenes just consist of an actor talking directly into the audience. While that simplified narration may work in a theatrical setting if the actor is a good orator, it's less compelling when seen on a movie screen. The music of the Four Seasons is still there, but it's used more as filler and background than providing the emotional complement to the drama unfolding among Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The film version of “Jersey Boys” loses some its humor. Using its Hollywood budget and scale, the film pulls off some sight gags for laughs that the stage version could not. But then the film manages to screw up the delivery of some of the Broadway musical's funniest lines. One odd thing noticed was how the film manages to skip how each member of the Four Seasons represented one of the four seasons like the musical did as a framing device that defined each member. But that's a nitpick at this point.
In the end, “Jersey Boys” the film isn't going to replace the Broadway musical. It feels more like a documentary with music that is cut & dry than an entertaining musical. But at least it's a chance to listen to some of that unique music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.