Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Movie Review: Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys
Directed by: Clint Eastwood.
Written by: Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice based on their musical.
Starring: John Lloyd Young (Frankie Valli), Vincent Piazza (Tommy DeVito), Erich Bergen (Bob Gaudio), Michael Lomenda (Nick Massi), Christopher Walken (Gyp DeCarlo), Renée Marino (Mary), Johnny Cannizzaro (Nick DeVito), Mike Doyle (Bob Crewe), Donnie Kehr (Norm Waxman), Erica Piccininni (Lorraine).

Not having seen the super popular stage show that Jersey Boys is based on, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Clint Eastwood’s movie – but it certainly wasn’t the movie I saw. From everything I had heard about the show, I had it in my head as something akin to Mamma Mia – an all singing, all dancing show with constant music, movement and excitement – which isn’t really what I particularly like in my Broadway musicals (I hated Mamma Mia) – which is one of the reason I stayed away. Eastwood’s film is darker than I expected – both visually and thematically. There is a lot of music in the movie – but Eastwood shoots it all in a curious way – often with the band recording the song, or performing it on TV, where Eastwood sets his cameras behind the television cameras so he’s not just filming the band, but film the band being filmed. Often he doesn’t even let whole songs play out in their entirety. Over the end credits, Eastwood finally films the kind of big, brassy musical number I was expecting throughout the film – as if in the film’s last moments Eastwood is letting the audience know that he could have delivered what everyone was expecting if he wanted to – he just didn’t want to. The film Jersey Boys resembles more than any other I can think of is Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas – which was practically a musical with no music – that Eastwood uses as a model for the film’s style and structure. As great a director as Eastwood can be – he’s no Martin Scorsese if for no other reason than because Eastwood’s style is usually more subdued – and Scorsese’s is the exact opposite. It doesn’t really help matters that the story Eastwood tells lacks the dramatics of Scorsese’s – the high wire act of fun that can turn into violence and paranoia in a heartbeat. Eastwood’s story is mainly a trivial one about the rise and fall of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons – a band who had numerous hits in the early 1960s, and then as changing musical tastes prevailed in America (something curiously not mentioned in the movie) faded from the spotlight. In short, and I cannot believe I’m saying this, Jersey Boys needed to be a little more Mamma Mia and a little less GoodFellas if it was going to be the great time at the movies it so desperately wants to be.

The film charts the humble beginnings of the Four Seasons – from their time as teenagers in a New Jersey suburb outside Newark, where it appeared that one or more of the members of the band were bound for jail rather than fame. The “narrator” for this early part of the movie is mainly Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) – who has some mob connections – notably Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken). He’s friends with the younger Frankie (John Lloyd Young) – and knows that the kid has a great voice. But even with the great voice, they cannot get their career off the ground. Then they meet Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) – who is a talented musician – and can also write songs and has plans that are grander than Tommy’s. The two don’t like each other much, and fight for control of the band. When they eventually sign a record deal with producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle) – their career slowly starts taking off. Eventually they become huge – with one number one hit after another – but Tommy is still immature and irresponsible – and because he’s still in charge of the money, that means trouble.

Jersey Boys is never boring, but never particularly involving either. The film is over two hours long – and yet I never really felt that I got to know anything really about the four members of the band. They are basically one note roles, and while the actors do a fine job in those notes, I wanted something a little deeper than what I got. The final scene of the movie (except for the end credits musical number) – is the band singing at their induction to the rock n’ roll hall of fame – and each member of the band takes one more opportunity to talk directly to the audience. What I found odd about this sequence is that it’s really the first time Frankie Valli himself talks to the camera – and he’s says the best moment (four men singing under a street light, discovering that sound for the first time) – is one that really isn’t in the movie at all. Then Bob comes on and says the last words to the camera – and what’s odd is that it makes him look like an egomaniac than he seemed at any point of the movie. You really shouldn’t be introducing more information like that in the last scene in the movie.

The film looks good to be sure – even if the period detail doesn’t seem authentic as much as it seems to be based on TV shows of the 1950s and ‘60s. There is a little bit of a disconnect between the film that Eastwood seemed to want to make, and the subject matter – but I did appreciate that Eastwood took the material seriously – even if at times, I think he took it a little too seriously. The music is good – the performances are fine and in a summer that is filled with big budget movies aimed at teenage boys, it is somewhat refreshing to have a major studio release aimed squarely at adults.

Yet Jersey Boys never quite comes together. It’s not a bad movie by any means, but it’s nowhere near Eastwood’s best work, nor the best musical of recent years. It never quite hits the heights it wants to. It’s not bad – but it should have been better.

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