Jersey Boys (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Jersey Boys (2014)

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Jersey Boys, adapted from the musical of the same name, tells the story behind the Four Seasons.  They were responsible for a number of hits including "Big Girls Don't Cry", "December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night)", "Sherry", and many more.  Clint Eastwood directs an ensemble cast with a screenplay by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.

Hangin' with the boysClint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys is two different films vying for attention. The first, and less interesting of the two, is a flash by-the-numbers musical biopic where we see the genesis of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons’ greatest hits. Eastwood, along with cinematographer, create the second film by looking at the artifice behind pop music at the time and embracing the fraud for all the fun and pain those deceptions cause.

These two competitive elements make Jersey Boys a wildly uneven film. Eastwood goes from routine scenes of inter-band bickering to stunning moments that manage to tell the story of pop stardom in just a few shots. To be fair to Eastwood, those bickering moments are so generically constructed that there may be no way to visually spice them up in a way that would be consistent with the high-marks of the film.

Eastwood's direction throughout Jersey Boys does a great job of building up the myth behind the band.

Eastwood's direction throughout Jersey Boys does a great job of building up the myth behind the band.

So my question, unlikely to be answered anytime soon, is how much is Eastwood’s film hampered because of Jersey Boys’ transition from stage to screen? Based solely on the film, in a few different ways – some easily perceptible and others more because of the necessary stylistic changes to adapt the musical. The most prominent of these is the running narration of Frankie Valli’s (John Lloyd Young) band mates, Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), and Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza). It’s a clear leftover from the stage as each participant turns to the audience to deliver differing opinions on the band’s history. But this is an unnecessary component to leave in, as none of the perspectives change the visual tone of the film, the performances of the other band mates, or offer any other insights.

Bloat from these moments of narration is a consistent problem through the rest of Jersey Boys. The screenplay by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice pads Jersey Boys with a lot of conflict that’s resolved quickly, if at all. Frankie Valli’s wife, Mary Delgado (Renee Marino), is introduced in the first twenty minutes and then disappears for the next hour before popping back up to take part in scenes of domestic squabbling we’ve seen time and again, then promptly disappears after another heavy dramatic beat. The basic structure for the conflict of Jersey Boys is there but the scenes don’t flow very well into one another because the conflict is revealed primarily through the high volume of dialogue instead of the visuals.

When Jersey Boys drops the dialogue and Eastwood takes over the film clicks into fun. There’s one scene when some of the band is trying to get a contract to record and we watch this long panning shot through the window glass of a tower showing different hopeful artists singing for judgmental producers. The first singer is enough to establish the location, but by the time we’ve passed the sixth and seventh groups it becomes clear that this shot is as much about how the pop industry is working to manufacture the next hit and these kids stood as much of a chance as The Four Seasons did. It’s a superb mini-story within Jersey Boys about the towering artifice of pop. Eastwood also has fun with some old-school filming techniques, like rear-screen projection when there are scenes of the band traveling in a car. In these moments, when Jersey Boys blends old cinema techniques with the story of artifice, it’s a hoot to watch.

I love "goofy" Walken, but the continued resurgence of "serious perofrmer" Walken is one of Jersey Boys' nicest surprises.

I love "goofy" Walken, but the continued resurgence of "serious performer" Walken is Jersey Boys' nicest surprise.

The other metric that Jersey Boys meets, but rarely surpasses, is in the casting. Some of the individual performances from the band, Vincent Piazza especially, overflow with personality and reflect the wildly fluctuating confidence as The Four Seasons become more popular. Christopher Walken, while a victim of the disappearing / reappearing plot threads of the script, is having a late-career renaissance of excellent performances and shows how emotionally vulnerable music can make people. But, as a musical, I was disappointed in the singing, which is a surprise since Eastwood imports some members of the cast from the stage. Frankie Valli’s voice is difficult to replicate, and John Lloyd Young does a great job with the dramatic aspects of his career, but Young’s voice warbled a bit too much during Valli’s many high-pitched moments and didn’t have the sufficient presence the rest of the time.

Jersey Boys is a musical biopic to file under the “nice try” category. I was pleased enough throughout the film but the proportion of great to bland tips too heavily toward the latter.   For every scene that has Eastwood toying with old cinematic conventions at least two scenes of generic bickering follow close behind.  Jersey Boys might fulfill a fan on a lazy afternoon, but the rest of us would be better off buying the albums and dancing with a friend.

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Tail - Jersey BoysJersey Boys (2014)

Directed by Clint Eastwood.
Screenplay written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.
Starring John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Vincent Piazza, and Christopher Walken.

Posted by Andrew

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