BY Gina Tumlos
Jersey Boys was supposed to be directed by Iron Man’s Jon Favreau who no doubt would have made the Broadway adaptation much more entertaining than this generic rags-to-riches tale of a 1950s pop group which struggled with fame and fortune and the pitfalls that came along with it. Yawn. Clint Eastwood’s greatest liability in this project is the clichéd backdrop of the story, a hurdle which he could have overcome with his years of experience behind the camera, but unfortunately, his straight-forward style of storytelling was not a good match for the material.
The film opens with Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito, a small-time hustler and driver to mob boss Gyp DeCarlo (the always affable Christopher Walken) as he tells the camera that the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons would not have been possible without him. Piazza effortlessly slips into the skin of a 1950s mini mobster as this is familiar territory; he played Lucky Luciano in HBO’s gangster series Broadway Empire. Despite being the only cast member among the Four Seasons who was not transplanted from the original production, Piazza fits in easily with the rest of the gang and actually ends up becoming the most intriguing character. John Lloyd Young, who plays Frankie Valli, takes a little more time warm up onscreen, but it is undeniable that his otherworldly, high-pitched, nasal-y voice is what carried Jersey Boys the musical and the only thing that kept Jersey Boys the movie afloat. The Four Seasons is rounded off by Michael Lomenda as the bassist Nick Massi and Erich Bergen as the triple threat Bob Gaudio, who not only is the group’s keyboardist and back-up vocalist, but is also the composer of the hits “Sherry,” “Walk Like A Man,” and “Can’t Keep My Eyes Off You.”
The first forty minutes of the movie traces the early rise of Vallie who came from a nice middle-class family in New Jersey but ran around with the likes of DeVito and Massi who were frequently in trouble with the law. In spite of the early backing DeCarlo, it is only when Gaudio enters the picture that the group really gets its act together to make the infectious, bubbly music the Four Seasons are cherished and remembered for.
The second half of the film is packed with great music, provided by the actors in live takes, thus giving the numbers an electric feel and injecting the snap and energy the movie desperately needed. The Four Seasons quickly becomes a household name with the aid of producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle), but cracks begin to show as DeVito gets in over his head with his uncontrollable spending and continuous dealings with the loan shark Norm Waxman (Donnie Kehr). Predictably, this triggers the downfall of the Four Seasons with Massi quitting and Vallie going off on his own.
Had the long, uninterrupted dialogues been balanced with steady musical numbers, then maybe Jersey Boys y Boycould have had a chance. Unfortunately, the music stops after the ninety –minute mark and the film drags on without giving the audience any real emotional anchor. Though Jersey Boys is presented from the points-of-view of the members of The Four Seasons, the film falls short of becoming personal and engaging. Vallie is painted off as an altruistic, uncomplicated character and there’s no real exposition on how or why he kept making music. A montage of Vallie looking miserable while singing in small clubs shows how much he struggled during the bleak years, but the movie fails altogether to get into the mind and heart of the artist.
The other problem the movie had was its framing of Vallie’s relationship with his family. He marries a beautiful, vibrant woman (Renee Marino) who suddenly becomes a bitter drunk because of Vallie’s alleged affairs and his continued absence. Moreover, out-of-nowhere, his relationship with his daughter becomes the focal point of the movie. What was supposed to be a tragic moment in the film instead becomes a dull placeholder for the next musical number.
Overall, Jersey Boys would perhaps be better appreciated on stage than on screen. Though Eastwood’s direction is solid, the production design immaculate, the editing seamless, and the music remarkable, the movie amounts to nothing more than a conventional retelling of a story we’ve seen a hundred times. Again, yawn.