Review by-Jarrett Leahy
Based on the Broadway musical of the same name and directed by legendary Hollywood filmmaker Clint Eastwood, Jersey Boys tells the true story of four young men who used their tremendous musical gifts to help escape the dead-end trappings of their New Jersey hometown, eventually becoming illustrious as The Four Seasons, one of the most successful music groups of the 1960s.
After immense success playing Frankie Valli in the Broadway version of Jersey Boys, John Lloyd Young was brought in to revise his Tony Award winning role for this screen adaptation. Young capably captures the innocent exuberance of younger Valli, as the audience just ate up his awe-shucks routine. However, when being projected over thirty feet tall up on screen, so much of a film actor’s success relies heavily on the ability to convey emotions through the most subtle of facial expressions. Unfortunately for Young, later in the film, his performance begins to languish slightly as he is asked to demonstrate a much greater range of emotions. Ultimately, Young’s striking ability to mimic Frankie Valli as a musical performer helps to overcome whatever deficiencies he may have had in the role’s more dramatic aspects.
Those envisioning a consummate Clint Eastwood film may want to temper their expectations or risk being sorely disappointed. Jersey Boys follows the archetypal, well-worn bio-pic conventions that we’ve all become quite familiar with after seeing them used dozen of times before. Eastwood’s choice to embrace the eccentricities of stage-style narration, most notably the overabundance of asides, the remarks by a character in a play that are intended to be heard by the audience but unheard by the other characters, may fluster those less familiar with these uncommon interruptions in narrative flow. On occasion, the film plays up its Italian stereotypes to an almost derisory level and loves to point out, whenever possible, that if you aren’t from Jersey, you just won’t get it. Eastwood’s blind eye regarding makeup, first evident in his previous bio-pic J. Edgar, rears its ugly head yet again as the substandard cosmetic techniques used to age these characters ruined the suspension of disbelief. This may come as a bit of a shock to some, but in the end, I’m afraid any success this film may enjoy will have very little to do with Eastwood’s involvement but instead more from simply piggybacking on the achievements and popularity already established by the stage show along with the built-in sentimentality for this beloved musical group.
It was reported that early on, Eastwood made the decision not to cast Hollywood actors for many of story’s main characters, instead preferring stage actors who had played these roles every night. This choice wound up being a mixed bag, as many of these unknown faces nimbly executed the more theatrical elements of the screenplay, but at times appeared to lack the familiarity with the more dramatic requirements asked of a film actor. One of the few lead actors who managed to turn his film acting into a major role in Jersey Boys was Vincent Piazza, who landed the role of guitarist and group leader, Tommy DeVito. Utilizing his tough guy persona he honed playing Lucky Luciano on the HBO Prohibition drama, Boardwalk Empire, Piazza’s depiction of the streetwise DeVito is a humorous and over-the-top portrayal of a small-time hustler trying to make it big and escape his impecunious existence.
The biggest and obvious main attraction of Jersey Boys is its incomparable music and the background stories surrounding their creation. During the 1960’s, The Four Seasons, thanks to the celestial voice of Frankie Valli and gifted writing talents of keyboardist Bob Gaudio, created a run of hit tunes that rivaled any of their contemporaries. Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like A Man, Rag Doll, and many more boost the film’s remembrance factor for those of a certain age, creating true moments of fondness as iconic performances like ones originally aired on the famed Ed Sullivan show are recreated through the use of archival footage and gifted set production.
In a technical sense, Jersey Boys is not a great film. It struggles to reconcile its refusal to abandon its Broadway roots for the benefit of its grand cinematic ambitions and is yet another example that director Clint Eastwood, now 84, appears to be done making true masterworks. But while sitting in a theater full of gray-hairs, almost everyone one of them dancing in their seats, quietly singing along to their favorite songs, and some even clapping after the various live performances, it suddenly hit me that Jersey Boys is the equivalent of nostalgia porn for just about anyone born before 1960. It’s about reliving those seminal moments in many peoples’ lives that were soundtracked by the unique vocal styling of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. In that sense I feel the film deserves some level of credit. Jersey Boys is a fun, yet all too often familiar story that helps bring these talented artists back to the forefront of pop culture, some fifty years later.-JL