Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Premise: An adaptation of the stage musical about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. A quartet of musicians from the streets of New Jersey rise to fame and fortune.
What Works: The musical performances of Jersey Boys were performed and recorded live on the set, as opposed to being rerecorded in post-production, and as a result the songs frequently have a rawness to their sound that suites the film. It gives the musical sequences a bit of an edge that’s befitting the tough background of the members of The Four Seasons. The performances by the lead actors of this film are also worth mentioning: John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli, Vincent Plazza as Tommy DeVito, Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio, and Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi. These actors do well with both the dramatic and musical aspects of their roles.
What Doesn’t: The filmmakers of Jersey Boys make several fatal mistakes and like most faulty movies the problems begin with its script. A common mistake of biographical pictures is a tendency to recite a lot of historical anecdotes but failing to assemble those anecdotes as a unified and coherent story. That is precisely the problem in Jersey Boys. There is very little set up and pay off and the movie does not appear to be working toward a climax. This is especially notable in the way the film deals with Frankie Valli’s home life. The movie dramatizes his first date with his wife, then cuts immediately to their wedding, and then she disappears from the story only to reappear later when Valli has three daughters and his wife is an alcoholic. Late in the film, Valli tries to mend his relationship with one of his estranged daughters but nothing actually happens. The daughter isn’t characterized nor is there any rising action in her story. That’s indicative of the whole picture. Jersey Boys is a series of disconnected events and the movie’s lack of cohesiveness makes it utterly uninvolving and ultimately very boring. The fragmented story of Jersey Boys also handicaps its ability to provide compelling characters and no one in the movie is interesting. Each of the leads are distinct screen presences but they are all one-dimensional, more caricatures than characters. Jersey Boys is also at fault stylistically. First and most importantly, the film fails in its presentation of the music. In fact, it’s debatable whether Jersey Boys is in fact a musical at all. With a couple of exceptions, virtually every performance occurs within the diegesis of the movie; the filmmakers rarely put on a show in the way viewers expect a musical to do. A lot of the musical sequences are flat and awkward. There is very little joy in the music and so the filmmakers torpedo the key appeal of the movie. The pop music of the 1950s and 60s continues to be popular because it’s fun but very little of Jersey Boys is any fun at all. That’s evidenced by the R-rating, which the film earned because of about half a dozen curse words spoken by the characters. The language is intended to give the characters an authentic sense of place and if used correctly the filmmakers could have found humor in the contrast between the singers’ coarse language and their saccharine pop songs. Instead the movie comes across as compromised between a PG-13 and an R-rated sensibility. Jersey Boys also has a stylistic problem in its look. The film is shot all wrong. Director Clint Eastwood has been working with cinematographer Tom Stern since 2002’s Bloodwork, and Stern’s photography has a gritty, washed out, and film noir-like style that was appropriate for Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby but it’s all wrong for Jersey Boys. The flat, grey color pallet saps the movie of its life and expunges the youthful sense fun of the music.
Bottom Line: Jersey Boys is a movie that goes wrong in nearly every respect. This picture is fundamentally ill-conceived and poorly executed and it’s no fun to watch and frequently boring.
Episode: #497 (June 29, 2014)