Helmed by Clint Eastwood, chronicling the story of an iconic musical group and adapted from the Broadway smash of the same name, Jersey Boys is a film that will make its June 20 debut to some exceptionally high expectations. For all that it does right––and there’s plenty of that to go around––this adaptation has a hard time leaving the stage behind and stumbles in some respects that are difficult to overlook given Eastwood’s history and status as a legendary director.
Jersey Boys follows Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young), Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) and Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) from obscurity in Jersey to the fame they came to know as a beloved band to the issues and trials that ripped them apart, not to mention the resulting fallout. It’s a classic rock and roll story, that has delighted stage fans for the better part of a decade, and though it remains a great story in filmic form, the film struggles with pacing, dwelling far too long in some spots while breezing over others.
This coupled with a complete failure to render the appearance of any of the Seasons to be anything but eternal twentysomethings (until they show up at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame looking positively ancient) and some movement back and forth in time makes it quite difficult for anyone who doesn’t have the discography of the group memorized to know with any certainty how much time has passed. Only occasional clues from voiceover, the aging of Frankie’s kids (and the appearance of new ones) and clothing styles offer touch points in time. At a certain point a Valli that should presumably be around 40 sits at a table with his teenage daughter and the pair of them look so close in age that someone none the wiser might mistake their heart-to-heart for a date.
The flow of the narrative also flows from a seeming reluctance to adapt to this medium versus the stage. Characters breaking the fourth wall do make it seem as if they are sharing the story directly with the viewer, which works, to a degree, but it also feels a bit like a failure to consider a different approach to sharing this material--could details as simple as character names and relationships not be established in dialogue and visuals? Still, this loyalty to the stage version of Jersey Boys isn’t always a hinderance––three of the Four Seasons are plucked right from various stage iterations of the musical, and with a sound as specific as that that made these boys famous having people who capable of nailing it was always going to be the most essential key to success.
Young, Bergen and Lomenda slip right back into their familiar roles, with Young in particularly delivering a performance that might have some wondering if he can do Valli better than the man himself. Meanwhile, Piazza puts his Boardwalk Empire-practiced tough guy chops to great use as the abrasive wiseguy of the group. Christopher Walken swoops in to steal a number of scenes as the Jersey mobster Gyp DeCarlo.
Ultimately, people will see Jersey Boys for the music and the story, and those elements deliver, unhindered by the film’s missteps. Fans will thrill at the reverence with which the music is handled and enjoy the window dressings that have been put around it, even if we can’t help but think that Eastwood with all his experience and history of great work could have turned in something much better.