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Movie review: 'Jersey Boys'

Jersey Boys

Rating:
Star2
Star
Star
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Star

Few musicals successfully make the transition from stage to screen. The reasons are varied, from a change in the cast and director to a story meant for a small stage not really working on a larger scale. With “Jersey Boys”, a film based on the 2006 Tony winner for Best Musical, director Clint Eastwood made the unusual decision to keep the stage cast rather than cast movie stars. Much of the dialogue and many of the situations are also kept very close to, or lifted exactly from, the musical’s original script. But Eastwood’s “Jersey Boys” fails to replicate the charm of the Broadway production, likely due to the strange mix of keeping so much the same but changing little—though important—things.

The Four Seasons perform
The Four Seasons perform
Warner Brothers

“Jersey Boys” is the story of the band The Four Seasons and their rise to fame. The film opens in 1950s New Jersey, where little Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) is honing his voice—including a mean falsetto—under the tutelage of his friends Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), although the two thugs aren’t really the best influence on them. Eventually, when they figure out a they need a fourth member of their band, they join forces with singer/songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), obtain a record deal, and, well, the rest is history.

But things don’t go smoothly for the gang as they rise to fame. Tommy sinks the group further and further into debt, while Frankie loses touch with his wife and kids. They also have, for better or worse, many dealings with the mob, including boss Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken), whose love for Frankie’s voice makes him treat him like family.

What makes this telling of your average band-rises-to-fame-then-struggles-with-fame story is that it is told by each member of the band, each of the Four Seasons giving their take on their surroundings. But rather than tell the same story over and over again with a different point of view each time, the story progresses and the narrators take turns. It was an effective approach in the stage musical that is just as effective here, with the narrators often stopping right in the middle of the action, right in the middle of a song, even, to look directly in the camera and tell the audience what is happening.

All of The Four Seasons’ biggest hits are covered here, from “Sherry” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” to “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and “December 1963”. The actors cover the songs effectively, retaining much of their original spirit. Young, who originated and won a Tony for the role of Frankie Valli on Broadway, does a copy of the real Frankie’s falsetto that’s quite impressive. This is not one of those musicals where the cast randomly bursts into song at any given moment—rather, each song is a performance by the band within the context of the story (the stage musical was actually a combination of those two approaches).

But where the music soars the rest of the movie lags behind. The actors are all great singers, and decent actors too, but they don’t have the presence to carry a feature film. Young in particular never shows a full range of emotions, even when some pretty dramatic things happen to his character. Eastwood’s direction is also a concern. While the stage musical had quite a bit of humor in it, this movie is almost devoid of any at all. It’s dark—literally, the entire color palate of the movie is dull. It deals almost as much with the mob dealings as the music, and this change of tone doesn’t suit the story well at all. It would perhaps be more enjoyable to just watch the music scenes and cut out everything in between.

So it’s a jarring moment when, at the end of this serious,reality-grounded film, as the credits start to roll, the entire cast—and I mean everyone—joins together on an artificial street to sing and dance to “December 1963”. You know how a lot of animated movies nowadays have a completely random song-and-dance number at the end, as if they couldn’t just end the movie with the resolution of whatever conflict has persisted for the entire story? It’s exactly like that.

Even without comparing it to the stage version, “Jersey Boys” doesn’t hold up as a strong film. It’s a musical that lacks the fun of a musical, a biopic that lacks the heart of a biopic. Ultimately, it just kind of sits there, looking and sounding mildly pretty and acting as a valid option for adults who are tired of the usual summer blockbuster fare.

Runtime: 134 minutes. Rated R for language throughout.

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