The Broadway smash hit Jersey Boys has hit theaters by way of Director Clint Eastwood and the results are decidedly mixed. Part of that stems from the source material and part of it comes from the way Eastwood attacked the material.
Jersey Boys tells the story of Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young, who reprises his role from the stage) and The Four Seasons. The film basically presents the “Behind the Music” of the group and tells the story from all the different points of view of the members. This approach left me a little confused as I watched, not knowing what year we were in at any given time and not understanding why certain plot points were left out. For example, when Valli is getting kicked out by his wife Maria (Renee Marino), she stands with three girls, clearly the couple’s daughters. Here’s the thing—we’d only met one of their daughters, so I’m sitting there thinking, Where the hell did these other kids come from? Clearly, the audience can do the math, but it shows that the filmmakers were really only interested in getting us to each song, failing to craft a flowing narrative.
That narrative could have been improved by the songs, but it’s not. Jersey Boys is what’s called a “jukebox musical,” in that it builds a show around hit songs that the audience will be familiar with. The problem with this approach, and why it doesn’t translate well into movie theaters, is that in traditional musicals, the script is kind of given the short shrift in favor of the songs, but that’s okay because the songs also tell the story. This isn’t the case in a jukebox musical, or at least, that’s not the case with Jersey Boys. The songs are only in the film because The Four Seasons sing them, not because they add anything to telling the story. That’s not to dump on the songs—they’re good and are well-performed—they just don’t add anything to the narrative.
Because the story is told from different points of view, the script, written by writers of the Broadway show, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, is kind of all over the place. Eastwood and the writers leave the audience totally adrift in the timeline, moving backwards and forwards, without any anchor point. It didn’t help an already weak story. Also, what is it with Clint Eastwood and old age makeup? Is his nephew in charge of it on his films, so he can’t fire him? Eastwood received a lot of criticism for the abysmal makeup in J. Edgar and he should get the same criticism here. At a scene late in the film, one of the only ones to give us a date, The Four Seasons reunite and their age makeup is atrocious.
Despite all my problems with the script and story aspects of the film, the cast does a good job with what they’re given. It is a little ridiculous that the thirty-eight-year-old Young has to play Valli from the age of 16 on, but he definitely has the chops to pull off the role. Vincent Piazza plays Tommy DeVito, the man who puts the band together. Piazza does a fairly good job, but his character is kind of one-note and his hot headed nature got boring after a while. Michael Lomenda does a good job as Nick Massi, while Erich Bergen is great as Bob Gauido, the songwriter who would create hits with Valli even after The Four Seasons split. Christopher Walken puts in a nice appearance as made guy Gyp DeCarlo, but for me, the highlight of the film was Mike Doyle as the flamboyant record producer Bob Crewe—he was a riot.
Overall, I have to notch Jersey Boys as a disappointment. I’m not a big musical fan by nature, but will admit when one has been done well. I don’t think Eastwood was the right man for this job, but as I said, the problems went deeper than that. You can probably skip it unless you’re so much of a Jersey Boys fan that you have to see these songs performed again in a movie theater as opposed to a stage theater.