Jersey Boys: Movie Review
Cast: John Lloyd-Young, Erich Bergen, Vincent Piazza, Christopher Walken
Director: Clint Eastwood
It's the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons in case you've never heard of the phenomenally popular Jersey Boys stage show that charts their rise and fall and rise again.
The original star of the Broadway show, the Travolta / Fonz look-a-like Lloyd-Young is Valli, a youngster in 1951 New Jersey, who's on the wrong side of trouble thanks to his friendship with Tommy (Piazza). But one thing they have in common is music - and that puts them on a path for stardom as they try to break through with their sound.
As ever, fame costs - and that where these Noo Joisey boys have to start paying - as the clashes and personal squabbles come to the fore during their ascent to the Rock and Roll hall of fame in 1990.
Taking the smash hit stage play and transposing it to the big screen was always going to be a big ask - even for a director like Clint Eastwood. And while Eastwood's delved a little more into the relationships and tensions between Tommy and the rest of the band, for anyone who's seen the stage show, there's a distinct feeling that this jukebox musical has lost some of its fun and shine as it made its way to the big screen.
The first hour which charts the Goodfellas wannabe actions of Tommy and his interaction with the Mob (as rendered by Christopher Walken who phones it in and inadvertently causes sniggers as Valli's music brings him to tears) plods amid a sea of browns and beige, so deeply evocative of the era.
In fact, in among the characters breaking the fourth wall to spout exposition, there's a feeling that the film just isn't going anywhere that's not been clearly and obviously signposted. Even worse, it feels like you're watching a dour downbeat made for TV movie about gangsters that's as widely derivative as the Four Seasons' early attempts at songs.
It's not until the sounds of Sherry, Walk Like a Man and Big Girls Don't Cry are wheeled out once the group meets singer / songwriter Bob Gaudio and the outrageously flamboyant studio producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle) that Eastwood injects something resembling life into the proceedings. But having given a blast of energy as these hits are tossed into proceedings, the wind's taken out of the sails once again as Valli negotiates domestic issues and toxic Tommy brings the group crashing down.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly where Jersey Boys doesn't fully work - because the live singing, as used in Les Miserables, gives it a credibility and vitality it desperately needs. But in transitioning the stage show to the screen and being faithfully slavish to the source material, somehow all of the energy that you get from a live show, its set changes and audience reaction is sucked out by a 2 hour 10 minute run time that lacks a real joie de vivre. Throw into that narrative emotional beats which are missing - Tommy simply disappears off screen after a confrontation, Valli's daughter dies with no real emotion - and the issues that you'd have with a stage show are even more glaringly obvious up on the big screen.
While Eastwood's done a great job of recreating the era, and an end sequence medley offers a hint at what could have been as it crackles with vitality and energy, Clint Eastwood's Jersey Boys may appeal to some determined to wallow in a haze of nostalgia and to diehard fans of the stage show alone.