“‘Jersey Bores’ is More Like It”
John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Vincent Piazza
Directed by Clint Eastwood
If there’s any studio film that has everything going for it this summer, it’s the big screen version of “Jersey Boys.” Among the many reasons why: It’s based on the Tony Award-winning Broadway show about The Four Seasons, the hit-making pop combo from the late 50s and early 60s; it stars John Lloyd Young, who reprises his award-winning role as its high-pitched lead singer, Frankie Valli; it’s directed by Clint Eastwood, the Oscar-winning director of “Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby”; and, perhaps most of all, it serves as a viable alternative for grown-up moviegoers who have no interest in seeing big-budget blockbusters about spaceships and superheroes.
So how could something that was full of so much promise fall short on so many levels? Well, for starters, there’s Eastwood himself. While his straightforward, no-frills and old-fashioned directing style served him well with the likes of 2003’s “Mystic River,” 2006’s “Letters from Iwo Jima” and 2010’s “Gran Torino,” it’s just not a good fit for a jukebox musical like “Jersey Boys.” Where the film should have popped with rousing flash and vibrancy, it is instead dull, poorly-paced, uneven, unfocused and overlong.
It doesn’t help that the screenplay and musical book (written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice) covers far too much ground for a two-hour-and-14-minute film to effectively handle. The historical high points feel episodic, and the subplots feel underdeveloped. The result is just another cliché-ridden rise-and-fall music biopic that barely scratches the surface, as the working-class Four Seasons hit the bigtime, only to implode when success, greed and jealousy take their toll.
Of course, the music is great, and it’s hard to resist the appeal of chart-topping hits like “Sherry,” “Big Boys Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man” and “Rag Doll.” But otherwise, most of the characters fall prey to “Goodfellas”-style Italian stereotypes, particularly Vincent Piazza (TV’s “Boardwalk Empire), who lays it on too thick as hot-tempered bandmate Tommy DeVito. John Lloyd Young fares much better as Frankie Valli – even though his performance suffers from being underwritten, you can’t take your eyes off him when he belts out the hits.
As with the stage show, some of the characters break the fourth wall and speak directly to the camera, but it’s not consistent enough to be effective. It doesn’t help that despite the presence of the group’s ever-growing sideburns, one never senses the passage of time. The majority of the film takes place over a 10-year period during the 60s, but the evolution of The Four Seasons feels far too insulated from the outside world, which was shaken to the core by political assassinations, race riots, the moon landings, the British Invasion and the conflict in Vietnam.
“Jersey Boys” should have gotten under your skin and worked like a charm, but sadly, it misses the boat. It feels too flat and lacks depth, flair and spirit, and it doesn’t feel open enough in its transition from the stage to the big screen. That’s really too bad, because for a movie about one of the biggest selling pop groups of the 1960s, “Jersey Boys” just doesn’t pop enough.