Jersey Boys review

Review Nick Horton 18 Jun 2014 - 07:09

Clint Eastwood takes on the story of The Four Seasons in the big screen take on Jersey Boys. Here's our review...

I’m not really a fan of the Four Seasons. At least I didn’t think I was a fan – it turns out you know every single song. Which is the main strength of the movie telling the story of the band, Jersey Boys: the pure infectious joy which envelops each musical number, and propels the sometimes shaky narrative along. As in the end, Jersey Boys isn’t quite sure if it wants to be musical biopic, or cheesy musical, and falls somewhere in between.

Based closely on the structure of the musical, Jersey Boys - directed by Clint Eastwood, no less - tells the story of Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Bob Gaudio, and Nick Massi – the original line-up. Tommy is a two-bit crook in Newark, who gets the beautifully voiced Frankie to join his group. However, it isn’t until Joe Pesci (yes, you read that right) introduces them to songwriter Bob Gaudio that it all clicks, and pop stardom beckons. For a while at least, until personal feuds erupt and tragedy strikes.

So what does Jersey Boys do well? Clint may not be the obvious choice to direct a musical, but in the early stages of the film he foregoes the spectacle for an intimate look at the relationships which defined the band, playing to his strengths as a director. Eastwood has ever been fond of the slow build, the careful camera movement, and the long hold. It gives the personal drama more room to breathe, and plays to the strengths of cinema over stage. You’re meant to invest and care about these guys rather than just marvel at Frankie Valli’s voice, and to a degree you get that. Once they start churning out hit after hit, you’re pleased for them, and glad to be along for the ride.

You’re also glad Clint Eastwood is taking you on it too, and that he seems to be relaxing a little and having fun. He even throws in a cheeky cameo during one memorable scene. Clint is clearly revelling in the period, the songs, and the old school way of doing things (the way they market records seems charmingly old-fashioned and simple, ‘we’ll just play it to this guy, and then it’ll be a hit...’).

The cast is pretty strong too. John Lloyd Young, who originated the role on Broadway, works well both as a teenage Frankie Valli, and as the showman in his prime, while Erich Bergen is convincing (at least initially) as Bob Gaudio, the song-writing talent behind the Four Seasons. However, while it’s fun to have him in it, Christopher Walken basically sleepwalks through his role as a kindly mobster looking out for the boys.

The fact that there is a kindly mobster character in the film should tell exactly how real this history is. No-one is painted in anything other than shades of white. All the cheating, back-stabbing, and pain they do and cause to each other is basically forgiven, forgotten and written off. Any attempt at a realistic tone is abandoned as the film goes on for movie backlot fakeness. The film begins to look super-cheap, and the previously tight script unravels as the careers go on.

It actually becomes pretty confusing as to what the hell is happening at any point (but then bam! Another awesome song) and it also becomes hard to care. At one stage, there's a tragedy in the movie, but it lacks any real dramatic weight when it happens. 

By the end of Jersey Boys, any pretence that this is anything other than a musical being filmed, rather than a film with music, has been forgotten. It feels stagey, hammy, and increasingly reliant on its musical numbers to shore up dramatic inertia.

Which is a shame, because for a while Jersey Boys felt like it could have been a new twist on the stale musical biopic. But it quickly becomes confused, a bit boring, and a relic from another era. In fact the only thing that remains fresh in the film by the end is the songs, proving that they will stand the test of time, unlike this adaptation.

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Ahh that's a shame it's not quite up to snuff as it is truly remarkable the amount of songs they produced that were stone cold classics.

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