Jersey Boys


JERSEY BOYS (Clint Eastwood). 134 minutes. Opens Friday (June 20). See listing. Rating: N

Hollywood has been trying to bring Jersey Boys to the big screen ever since the jukebox musical – based on the lives and songs of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons – made its Broadway debut in 2005. Nearly a decade later, Clint Eastwood has done it.

And it sucks.

I have not seen the stage production of Jersey Boys, but I cannot believe that it is as lifelessly realized, as jarringly overacted, as narratively clumsy or as musically inept as the film Eastwood has made. This is a turgid, exaggerated, painful experience, crushingly dull at two and a quarter hours and utterly tone-deaf to the rhythms of its own music.

Told by the Four Seasons themselves – the characters constantly breaking the fourth wall to tell us, in a dialect that can best be defined as “unreconstructed mook,” how t’ree mobbed-up kids from small-town Joisey teamed up with white-bread genius songwriter Bob Gaudio to become doo-wop sensations – the story slouches through all the expected biopic signposts.

Crappy gigs! Self-doubt! Recording sessions! Internal strife! Gold records! Crumbling marriages! Financial pitfalls! Class resentment! More gold records! Gambling debts! Mob stuff! Breakups! An initially wary but ultimately ecstatic reunion!

I would worry about spoilers, but let’s be honest: Jersey Boys can only be spoiled if this is the first time you’ve ever seen a movie about a band. It’s one cliché after another, played out mostly in flat, wide shots in nicely realized period settings – which further removes the material from its stage origins, dampening its spirit by weighing it down with realism. What’s truly amazing is how little of the Four Seasons’ music we get to hear; as much as 10 to 15 minutes can pass between numbers.

The ironic thing is, Clint Eastwood may be the only director who could have made a film out of Jersey Boys at all. Only Eastwood – whose legendary efficiency as a director has deteriorated into shooting rehearsals and putting first drafts of screenplays directly into production – might have looked at the book of Jersey Boys and thought: yeah, what the hell.

It doesn’t seem like he did a lot of work with his cast, either. The performances are preposterously theatrical, as if the actors saw the stage show and ran straight to set, doing their best to replicate it beat for beat. I can understand this from John Lloyd Young, who actually did play the role of Valli on Broadway and reprises it here, but the other actors should have known better.

Vincent Piazza, who broke out as Lucky Luciano on Boardwalk Empire, is a one-note cartoon as the thuggish, resentful Tommy DeVito; Michael Lomenda is a block of wood as Nick Massi and Erich Bergen is a slightly larger block as Gaudio. And all of them look subdued next to whatever the hell Mike Doyle is doing as Bob Crewe, the group’s producer and lyricist, whose flamboyant homosexuality is played for… well, not laughs exactly, but queerness. It must have played better on stage.

Oh, and Christopher Walken is in this, playing a Jersey mob boss, a role I’m certain would have gone to James Gandolfini had he lived. The character does not sing or dance, so casting Walken in that role – in a musical – is either unconsciously perverse, or genuinely so. I am not sure which would be worse.

You want to know the most disappointing thing about Jersey Boys? Clint Eastwood used to be pretty great at using music. Play Misty For Me, his directorial debut, hangs on the intimacy formed between two strangers who listen to the same song. Honkytonk Man and Bird were about musicians, and take great pleasure in their stories and their worlds. The Bridges Of Madison County used the songs of Johnny Hartman and his contemporaries to express the erotic tensions between its leads. (And yes, that will likely be the last time I use “Clint Eastwood” and “erotic tensions” in the same paragraph.)

Whatever Jersey Boys is supposed to be, it isn’t a musical. It isn’t even about the music. Like more or less everything Eastwood’s done after Million Dollar Baby, it’s about having something to do this year. It’s such a resolutely uncinematic picture that it even replicates the show’s curtain call, a medley of songs performed by the entire cast on a proudly artificial backlot set while the credits drift by. It’s as if Eastwood is showing us what a truly slavish adaptation might have looked like: it could have been worse, right?

But it does get worse. The sequence ends – I am not making this up – on a freeze, but not a freeze-frame; everyone just stands still, faces frozen in triumphant grins, as if holding for rapturous applause.

I imagine they’ll be waiting a long, long time.



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