Review: Jersey Boys (2014)

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Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenwriters: Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice
Based on the musical of the same name
Cast: Vincent Piazza, John Lloyd Young, Christopher Walken, Steve Schirripa, Kathrine Narducci, Lou Volpe, Johnny Cannizzaro, Erich Bergen & Michael Lomenda
Runtime: 134 min // Certificate: 15

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tL2iILHUsG0]

Clint Eastwood’s directorial career is one of the most consistent in the business. Sure, there are a few duds here and there, and I’m still not entirely convinced he’s ever made anything that could be considered a bona-fide “masterpiece” (though he’s come close on a couple of occasions), but even so, when you watch a Clint film you generally know what it’ll be like before the titles even roll. As such, when I first heard that the great man was adapting Jersey Boys – the smash Broadway musical based on the songs of The Four Seasons – for the big screen, I already had a vague idea of what to expect; I expected an abundance of heavy-accented gangsters, a few platitudes about respect and loyalty and, above all else, I expected Clint to play it all that little bit too straight. In all three respects, I wasn’t disappointed. Or rather I was, but I wasn’t particularly surprised.

The problem with Jersey Boys is that what makes it great – namely, the Four Seasons’ rich back catalogue of songs – feels like an afterthought. Eastwood isn’t anywhere near as interested in the music as he is in the generic mobster story, which is pretty limp and thus all but impossible to invest in anyway. To his credit, Eastwood approaches this part of the story with characteristic vigour and energy, but because the screenplay panders to every possible cliché of 1950s America that you can imagine you never feel any of the peril or the conflict that Eastwood obviously sees in the tale. When Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter) rocks up as a mob boss and tries to act tough (but fair, of course, for all 50s gangsters were good to their Mothers and were respected in the community yadda, yadda, yadda), you can’t help but laugh.

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On a similar note, because Eastwood spends so much time on the mobster subplot, the story of the band is needlessly erratic and aimless. The performances are fine enough – though some of them should perhaps stick to singing over acting – and the general thrust of the story is decent, but it’s all held together by lousy exposition and lazy breaking down of the fourth wall. At any given moment, one of the band members will stop what they’re doing to address the audience. There’s no consistency to these sudden breaks in the story, nor is there are real purpose to them – other than to tell us things that we already know – but they happen anyway, presumably to stop the entire escapade running into a brick wall as it so often threatens to do.

Nonetheless, despite its flaws, Jersey Boys has a certain undeniable charm that rests almost entirely on the shoulders of the music. If you can watch it without your toes tapping then you’re clearly much more in control of yourself than I am because whilst I found the film itself a bit mediocre, the music totally made up for it. John Lloyd Young has a phenomenal voice and he more than does Frankie Valli justice, especially when he’s singing solo songs like the hauntingly majestic “My Eyes Adored You”. It’s just a shame that Eastwood plays it all so safe and po-faced, as the potential for brilliance is clearly there. The final performance, for example, of the group’s most famous song is theatrical, stagey and brimming with camp energy. More of that would’ve been much appreciated. Alas, this isn’t natural territory for Clint and though the songs are all fantastic, he leaves no mark on them or the film whatsoever.

If you’re a fan of the Four Seasons then you might enjoy this in spite of yourself, as I most certainly did. It’s inoffensive, a bit too safe and much too unfocussed, but it does what it needs to do well enough and tells a passable story in the process. In Eastwood’s defence, the problems lie more in the screenplay than in his direction, though the film would’ve no doubt benefitted from someone with a bit more passion for the project behind the camera. Nevertheless, it’s a sound film and one that reminded me just how much I love the Four Seasons’ music so it gets some extra credit for that alone.

★★★

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