Jersey Boys (★★½)

jersey_boysWhat an interesting turn of events this is. Clint Eastwood has switched gears with his latest outing, the Broadway adaptation of Jersey Boys, and in doing so has crafted almost inarguably his most likable film in years. At the same time though, most of the reasons that this musical manages to entertain for the most part have nothing to do with Eastwood, while the reasons I can’t quite recommend it have a lot to do with him. On the plus side, the music is obviously catchy, while the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons has a universal rags to riches sort of air to it. On the flip side though, there’s no reason why this movie needs to nearly be 140 minutes long, so when combined with Eastwood’s poor sense of pacing here, the flick drags in a big way at times. John Lloyd Young does sound like Valli and Christopher Walken gets a fun supporting role to play with, but the film isn’t nearly as clever or original as Eastwood and co-writers Marshall Brickman/Rick Elice must think it is. I’m sure plenty of folks will be able to enjoy Jersey Boys as a lesser work, but it’s just a bit too forgettable in the end for me to recommend to you all.

As mentioned above, this is an adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name. It tells the behind the scenes tale of four young men from New Jersey becoming the iconic group The Four Seasons. There’s a bit of a Rashoman style storytelling effect on display, as each member of the band gets a chance to narrate. There’s of course Frankie Valli (Young), who’s a favorite son in his home town, taken under the wing of Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) and the local mob boss Gyp DeCarlo (Walken). DeVito forms a band with Valli, Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), and Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen). They start out small, slowly working their way towards fame. Things aren’t all sunshine and roses though. Tommy is in debt to a loanshark, Frankie’s home life is a mess, and no one quite seems happy. They only realize that in retrospect however, as the tagline of the movie states “Everybody remembers it how they need to”. Interspersed throughout are most of the greatest hits from the band, and only during the end credits does the movie show its Broadway roots. If it sounds fairly decent but unworthy of such a bloated running length, well…you’re on to something there with that line of thinking. That is the work in a nutshell.

tn-500_earlyyearsI didn’t find anyone in the cast particularly good or particularly bad either, which is a tad on the frustrating side. I was partial to John Lloyd Young because of his voice and Christopher Walken for his light comedic touches to his role, but neither blow you away. Young can be a bit one note at times with the dramatic stuff, while Walken disappears from the story for long stretches. Vincent Piazza plays his part like he’s in a remake of Goodfellas (which is ironic since he’s a childhood friend of the real life Joe Pesci and that character is actually in the film), which grates a bit after a while. Michael Lomenda purposely fades into the background while Erich Bergen feels out of place at times. Other supporting players include Mike Doyle, Lacey Hannan, Steve Schirripa, and Freya Tingley, but none of them leave much of a mark, though Doyle has a few moments when he’s first introduced. Walken and Young come the closest, but the music manages to upstage everyone, and rightly so I guess.

Clint Eastwood seems all wrong for this kind of a movie, and while he does nothing noteworthy, he did manage to not make this some sort of a tone deaf embarrassment. Aside from a stagey feeling to the New Jersey beginning (it’s clearly California) section and his normally dark lighting by cinematographer Tom Stern, it’s a workmanlike bit of directing, for a musical at least. The script by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice comes from the book they wrote for the play, so they knew what they were doing. Brickman is better than this though (he has an Oscar for co-writing Annie Hall, after all), especially when you see how overly long this production is. What probably felt like a perfect length on Broadway will lose some folks three quarters of the way through here.

Overall, Jersey Boys is better than we feared but ultimately not as good as some had hoped. It’s a competent lesser work by Eastwood and if nothing else an interesting change of pace for him. My thumb leans more down than up, but with the caveat that this is a decent enough option for curious audience members. You more or less know what you’re getting with Jersey Boys, so choose wisely folks.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!