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New Release Review - Jersey Boys

Big screen adaptation of the Broadway musical smash.

Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Christopher Walken, Vincent Piazza, Mike Doyle


In 1950s New Jersey, young hood Tommy DeVito (Piazza) leads a musical trio known as The Variatones. When young hairdresser Frankie Castellucio (Young) joins as lead vocalist, he's an instant hit on the New Jersey supper club scene. DeVito has bigger plans, however, and when gifted songwriter Bob Gaudio (Bergen) comes on board, the group becomes The Four Lovers, picking up work as backing vocalists for Brill Building producer Bob Crewe (Doyle). Wanting to cut their own record, however, DeVito takes a loan from local gangsters to finance the recording. Now known as The Four Seasons, with Frankie rebranding himself as Frankie Valli, the group become international stars, but DeVito's lifestyle threatens to tear them apart.
I've never understood why Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons were referred to as such; being a quartet, surely it should be Frankie Valli & The Three Seasons? Nobody refers to The Three Degrees as Fayette Pinkney & The Three Degrees after all. This question began rattling around my brain while watching Clint Eastwood's film, which gives you an idea of just how bored I was. If you're expecting an answer to this question, you'll be disappointed. Likewise, if you're expecting an entertaining, toe tapping night at the movies, Jersey Boys is a huge letdown.
I went into the film under the impression it was an adaptation of the hugely popular Broadway and West End musical. By the film's end I was unconvinced, and had to immediately check if I had imagined this connection. I was right first time, though; this is indeed based on the stage show, but the film only contains one song and dance number. That's exactly the same amount as Slumdog Millionaire and 500 Days of Summer, neither of which boast smash hit musicals as their inspiration. As with Slumdog, Jersey Boys' solitary number plays under the end credits, so it can't really be considered part of the movie.
For a roughly 40 year long period, the musical genre was box office poison but that's no longer the case, with the likes of Les Miserables, Chicago and the High School Musical series proving huge hits in recent years. It's odd then that Eastwood would choose to excise the very element that made theatre-goers flock to the Jersey Boys stage show. The film runs for two hours and 15 minutes, but I estimate Valli's music features in no more than a total of 15 minutes of that punishing running time. With the musical numbers deleted, we're left with a bog standard music biopic, populated by the sort of Italian-American stereotypes that make it play like a sketch that might air on Saturday Night Live if Sylvester Stallone were the guest host that night. Characters speak directly to camera, a technique presumably lifted from the stage version. While you can get away with this on stage, on screen it simply reeks of lazy film-making and a lack of visual invention.
If leading man John Lloyd Young is an unfamiliar name, it's because he's been transplanted from the stage show, for which he won a Tony Award in 2006. He's got a great voice, lots of charisma, and presumably he can dance too, though the latter attribute is never called upon here. Aged 38, he looks two decades younger than that, which makes the timeline of the film difficult to follow. Eastwood's period recreation is practically non-existent, so we have to guess by minor details, like whether Valli has sideburns or not, in order to tell what decade current events are occurring in.
Eastwood has never been a showy director, which is perfect for the sort of intimate character dramas he's come to specialise in during his twilight years, but if ever a movie could have benefited from an extravagant visual stylist, it's Jersey Boys. The mark of a good music biopic is often whether or not you wish to hear more of the artist's work after the credits have rolled. Eastwood does nothing to get us excited about Valli's music, and I doubt too many copies of his Greatest Hits will be sold off the back of this turgid slog.
3/10


Eric Hillis

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