Review of "Jersey Boys (DVD)"

published 10/11/2016 | afy9mab
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Good
Pro Polished musical numbers.
Cons A lack of emotional depth, cliched writing and a lack of context.
exceptional
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Story
Characters / Performances
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Soundtrack

"Walk Like A Man"

Four young men from the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey form a band that will become The Four Seasons. Together, they navigate the pleasures and pitfalls of fame and fortune.

If I was looking for a filmmaker to bring a Broadway musical to the big screen. I don’t think veteran director Clint Eastwood would even be on the list. Although his films are held in high esteem, I find his style staid. Consequently, I wasn’t that surprised that his stab at a jukebox musical was more sombre than celebratory. The muted palette of browns, slate grey and washed-out blues made me feel as though I was seeing the world of the film through a series of faded photographs. There is a lot of really good attention to period detail, which gives a strong sense of nostalgia. However, the story plays out in a vacuum, devoid of a wider historical or cultural context. As a result, nothing felt quite real to me, especially as adult characters are played by the same actors throughout and they don't age. I had to guess at when various scenes were set based on fashions and hairdos (and by that, I mean truly terrible wigs and stick-on beards). A number of theatrical devices crop up, which make the film feel stage-bound. The most notable of these is the use of direct-to-camera address. While actors talking directly to the audience in a theatre makes them feel involved in the story, in cinema breaking the fourth wall is jarring because it just makes you more aware that you’re watching a film.

A cast largely drawn from the Broadway production makes for a series of polished performances. However, they are also rather mannered and everything appears too rehearsed. The musical numbers are pitch perfect in terms of musicality; unsurprisingly for actors who have performed the songs on stage upwards of twelve hundred times, there isn’t a bum note or a missed step between them. But although the stand-and-deliver performance style suits the story, the lack of invention means the musical suffers from a dearth of pizzazz. The only time Eastwood seems tempted to bring on the glitz is during the all-singing, all-dancing, all-cast closing number. But this last-minute flurry of activity seems forced and out of step with the rest of the movie.

The film doesn't have a great deal of emotional depth. This is partly because there is a reliance on stereotypes and clichés to tell the story. In addition, the characters don't get to express their deepest emotions through song. The musical numbers are disposable pop songs dealing in generalities and catchy choruses, rather than soul-searching expressions of their deepest, darkest emotions. Consequently, when life-altering events such as the break-up of a marriage or the death of a child occur, they lack impact. The cast as a whole don’t have much range and aren’t supported by a meaty enough script. Eastwood also comprehensively fails to capture the excitement of being in a chart-topping band and his woolly comic timing flattens the humour. The pacing judders, thanks to a series of abrupt shifts in tone and the director somehow manages to make an eventful lifetime appear ploddingly predictable. The hundred-and-thirty-four-minute running-time is excessive, and unlike a stage show, it isn’t justified by complex scene changes or an interval.

The screenplay by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, is based on the stage show of the same name. The plot is flimsy and riddled with holes. It follows a familiar rise-and-fall trajectory, which I didn’t find very satisfying because all of the band’s problems seem to be overcome too easily. We don’t see enough of them outside the group to understand any hardships they have suffered before joining the band. All of their knockbacks are compressed into a single scene in which Valli and Bob Gaudio walk down a corridor trying and failing to get their demo accepted by conveniently located record companies. The songs come out fully formed and are all bona fide hits and there’s always an indulgent mob godfather to deal with any unpleasantness. The plotting and pacing are also issues. The band-members’ domestic worries come from nowhere. One minute Frankie is marrying a real firecracker, the next she’s a booze-soaked harpy, screaming at him for not being there for his kids (which seems like fair comment to me). Valli’s daughter Francine is all but invisible until she’s thrust centre stage. Then she’s reduced to a plot point, whose death doesn’t seem to have the slightest impact on her dad’s hitmaking skills. I also got the very strong impression that all of the main protagonists are in the band for the money rather than the love of music, which made them quite unsympathetic.

The characterisation is drawn in broad strokes. Frankie Valli is written as the raw talent of the quartet, whose voice is the key to their success. But his career comes at the cost of his family. Tommy is the troublemaker - a temperamental, cocky, swaggering liability, who can't see trouble without getting neck-deep in it. Bob Gaudio is probably the least sympathetic of the Four Seasons. He’s a talented songwriter, but seems to see his work more as a business endeavour than a labour of love. Bass player Nick Massi is the least well defined of the band members. He comes across as a guy just tagging along with his friends, whether they are stealing safes, playing at night clubs or selling hit records. Music producer Bob Crewe is disappointingly written as a very camp gay stereotype. Mobster Gyp DeCarlo is presented as a surprisingly avuncular figure. He’s very protective of Frankie and is willing to use his influence on the diminutive singer’s behalf. Valli's first wife Mary is depicted as a man-eater and then a boozy shrew. I thought the dialogue was stilted in a lot of places and I was surprised by the amount of swearing.

John Lloyd Young, bears little physical resemblance to Frankie Valli, but has nailed his warbling falsetto style. However, his emotional range is limited and I didn’t really believe in any of the relationships he had on screen. Vincent Piazza who plays Tommy DeVito, is the only one of the main players not to have been plucked from the Broadway musical. He is the one who looks most naturalistic in front of the camera, but least at ease in the musical numbers. Erich Bergen plays Bob Gaudio as unworldly but business-savvy, making him come across as a bit of an eager beaver. I found Michael Lomenda bland as Nick Massi, but I suppose that’s the point of the character, so I guess he plays it well enough. Mike Doyle plays Bob Crewe as a disappointingly two-dimensional flamboyantly camp, slightly bitchy gay man. Christopher Walken is surprisingly sentimental as Gyp DeCarlo, but his unmistakeable staccato delivery renders the part very much his own.

The soundtrack consists mainly of cast performances of The Four Seasons’ greatest hits from “Sherry” to “December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” which are difficult to distinguish from the originals. There are also tracks like “Sunday Kind of Love” and sentimental ballad “My Mother’s Eyes”. All of the musical numbers are very polished and are probably the most memorable aspect of the production, although they sometimes feel over-rehearsed.

I wasn’t sure what to think about “Jersey Boys”. It wasn’t meaty enough to qualify as a drama or a biopic, but it lacked the kind of joyful release I expected from a musical. I thought the direction was staid and the writing was clichéd and scattershot in equal measure. The performances were more impressive in terms of musical ability than emotional range. It was one of those films I wanted to like a lot more than I actually did. You’ll probably enjoy it if you’re a fan of the stage musical or the music of The Four Seasons. Personally, I didn’t think it was Clint Eastwood’s best work as a director and I don’t think I’d watch it again.

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Comments on this review

  • rolandrat123 published 06/07/2017
    vh
  • Absinthe_Fairy published 16/11/2016
    Good read.
  • torr published 14/11/2016
    First rate review as ever.
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Product Information : Jersey Boys (DVD)

Manufacturer's product description

Product Details

EAN: 5051892173957

Actor(s) (Last name, First name): Christopher Walken

Director(s) (Last name, First name): Clint Eastwood

DVD Region: DVD

Classification: 15 years and over

Production Year: 2014

Title: J

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Listed on Ciao since: 13/11/2014