I might not be the most qualified person to review Jersey Boys. I haven’t seen any other films directed by Clint Eastwood (although I plan on watching the copy of Mystic River that I “borrowed” from my sister very soon). I also don’t know very much about Frankie Valli or The Four Seasons, as no one in my family listened to them while I was growing up. However, if there is one subject that I am knowledgeable on that will help me with this review, it’s musical theater. I know that this must sound strange coming from a self-proclaimed metalhead, but I love musicals. Whenever I hear songs from my favorites such as West Side Story or Little Shop of Horrors, there is a part of me that can’t help but get up and not only sing, but act out the song that is playing (a similar thing happens when I listen to Iron Maiden). Coming at Jersey Boys from that perspective, I believe that I have enough knowledge to give this film its day in court.
Jersey Boys, as you probably know, tells the story of Frankie Valli, portrayed here by Tony Award-winner John Lloyd Young, and the formation of his well-known musical group, The Four Seasons. The film has a progression of time similar to films such as Citizen Kane where we see thirty to forty years pass throughout the course of the film. The movie begins when Valli, a high schooler, becomes involved musically with two local troublemakers named Nick and Tommy, played by Michael Lomenda and Vincent Piazza, respectively. Later on, the trio team up with aspiring songwriter Bobby Gaudio, played by Erich Bergen, who has an ear for hit songs and believes that the four of them would be an unstoppable force on the charts. Bobby joins the group and the four young men soon become The Four Seasons, one of the most sensational acts of the 60s. However, no group like this can ever exist without disagreements, and misunderstandings, money problems, and personal issues soon divide the band as the darker side of the famous group is revealed.
Since Jersey Boys is an adaptation of a musical, I should first point out that the musical numbers are spot on. I haven’t seen Jersey Boys onstage, but I have seen several clips from the show, and the numbers chosen for this film capture the sound of both the musical and the original recordings by The Four Seasons. Young’s voice is quite impressive, and he does a great job imitating the music icon that he is portraying. From what I’ve heard of The Four Seasons recordings, there are moments that I find Valli’s voice to be a bit grating, and Young certainly captures those aspects of Valli’s voice, as well, especially in “Big Girls Don’t Criiiiiieeeeyiiiiiieeeeeyiiiii”. However, there are millions of people that loved every single note that Valli sang, including the nasally ones, and Young is performing for them, not me. The music was definitely the best part of the film, and at times even made me want to get up out of my seat and dance.
That being said, the music, unfortunately, is only a small part of the film. Had this been an adaptation such as Hairspray where the filmmakers tried to capture the exact feel of the stage production, it would have been a much more enjoyable experience. However, Clint Eastwood was at the helm of this movie, and instead of being a fun outing, Jersey Boys ends up being a typically dark, R-rated drama. When the band isn’t onstage, there is never any singing or dancing, making me question if this film even feels like a musical at all. The cast puts on a great performance, but the script that they are given to work with doesn’t flow very well. Many characters say things that don’t make any sense, one of the strangest being a random outburst by Nick about Tommy’s hygiene. The music aside, the film is quite boring; the only likable character, in my opinion, is the kindhearted Bobby. We learn about Frankie’s problems at home, but we don’t care because of the minuscule amount of screen time given to his wife and daughter. The character development of all of the band members, save Bobby, was quite uneven, and it just didn’t make for a very interesting story.
On top of those complaints, there were other things during the film that I found distracting. I’m assuming that Young actually sang his parts, but they were lip-synched during filming, and I must say that it was some of the worst and most obvious lip-synching that I’ve ever seen. There were other minor errors, as well. Valli’s daughter receives a Coke in a restaurant a mere second after ordering it. During a live television performance, we can hear a drum set on the track, but there isn’t one to be seen onstage. Things such as this, as well as my previous complaints, I blame on Eastwood, who never should have signed on to direct a musical of any kind.
After the main plot of the movie ended, the credits began to roll as the cast put on an energetic, Broadway-style performance of, “December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” in the streets of New York. This was both the most exciting and most disappointing part of the film. I was so happy to finally be treated to the kind of performance that I was hoping for, but I still walked out of the theater thinking, “Why couldn’t they have done the whole movie like that?” In the end, if you are an avid fan of The Four Seasons, you may find something enjoyable about this film. For the rest of us, I’d recommend saving your money for now and seeing the live show next time it comes to town.