Clint Eastwood’s “Jersey Boys” is a handsome-looking movie. As with “J. Edgar,” Eastwood and his cinematographer Tom Stern shoot this one in mostly low light giving the entire picture a noir-ish look that also punctuates James M. Murakami’s production design and making the period décor — the movie spans from the 1950s to the 1990s — pop off the screen.
Based on the hit Broadway musical, “Jersey Boys” recounts the story of the music group Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons — from their origins in a tough New Jersey neighborhood, to their fame and, finally, to Valli’s solo career. Unfortunately, the production design is the only thing that really pops as the movie — despite featuring some great music — suffers from a narrative that gets increasingly less interesting and more cliché, and from a general lack of energy. Even the musical performances failed to resonate.
The film does gets off to a pretty great start. When we first meet The Four Seasons, they’re just a bunch of young Jersey hoods getting into trouble and, in their own words, “busting each other’s balls.”
There’s bandleader Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), the biggest troublemaker of the group; bassist Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda); and, of course, Mr. Valli himself (John Lloyd Young), the shyest member of the group but also the one with the voice that would catapult the band to fame. There’s also Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), the songwriter of the foursome who joins a little later.
The only section of the movie that has any kind of energy in it is when the four of them mess around with one another, as they play nightclubs and try to stay out of trouble, usually failing to do so — it’s intoxicating. Not to mention that the four actors have incredible chemistry, playing off each other almost perfectly. Even Christopher Walken in a minor role as a mob boss and supporter of the group manages to make a small but memorable impression.
It’s when it moves away from being about The Jersey Boys (a group of scrappy underdogs from the wrong side of the tracks) and more about The Four Seasons (the band) that the picture begins to decline in quality. “The Jersey Boys” falls into the typical musician biopic traps: There’s the “we’re getting famous montage,” showing them writing and recording songs, as well as some heavy partying. And, of course, there’s the falling out among the group, as DeVito runs up a huge debt to some mobsters.
There are moments between the band members that are meant to be taken seriously but are undone by some really bad overacting and dialogue. All that easygoing, genuine energy that’s built up in the first 30 to 40 minutes practically dissipates, and Eastwood puts the film into autopilot.
Things get even worse when the band breaks up and the focus of the movie turns to Valli’s solo career (with Gaudio writing and producing). That’s because Valli, as a character, is, well…bland. He can sing, but he’s by far the blandest of the group. He’s the good boy, the only one who gets married and has a family and the one who gets stepped on. And he stays in this one-note for the entire movie.
He’s tolerable in the early section of the movie because he’s part of a group and the brotherly relationship he has with the other three is endearing. But when it’s just Valli, it’s not compelling. Newcomer Lloyd Young does the best he can as Valli but the role simply doesn’t have enough to sustain the last act of the movie.
On top of that, more drama is shoehorned into the plot. Valli’s fame and being constantly being on the road takes its toll on his family. Eastwood handles this in such a flimsy way, introducing this domestic drama at seemingly random moments. At this point, the picture has pretty much slowed to halt.
Also, the musical numbers don’t really stick with you. Since this is a movie adaptation of a stage musical, screenwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (the original authors of the musical) must have had to add a lot more story and dialogue. At two hours and 15 minutes, the movie is weighed down by its cliché story and drags on.
It’s a good thing that the music is what lives on — this movie will be quickly forgotten.
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