Clint Eastwood’s dramatic adaptation of ‘Jersey Boys’ falls flat, says Peter Roche
Jersey Boys, the four-time Tony award winning musical about the 1960’s doo-wop group The Four Seasons sounds like every other musical biopic on paper: kid grows up on wrong side of the tracks, joins a band with big dreams and a small budget, band goes nowhere, then band goes everywhere, kid’s past life catches up, band breaks up. Throw in is the archetypal community leader with shady connections, the savvy music executive, and the bass player who’s in nearly every scene but who’s name slips your mind, and you’ve got Dreamgirls, only with boys in it. What marks this film adaptation apart is that Clint Eastwood is at the helm, with a screenplay by Marshall Birkman (writer/producer for Woody Allen’s finest:
Manhattan and Annie Hall). Add to this a sprinkling of star Broadway actors, plus a dash of Christopher Walken, and you could be forgiven for thinking you have a sure-fire musical hit. Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young) is a barber in training with the voice of angel. At night he watches his friend Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) performing with his band, and occasionally helps him as a lookout out on heists. Tommy is the local lothario and assistant to mob man Gyp DeCarlo (Walken, his sheer presence as always is humorous and welcome). After all in this neighbourhood, or so Tommy breaks down the fourth wall to tell us, there are three ways out: get famous, join the army or join the mob. And these boys ain’t signing up with Uncle Sam.
From these inauspicious origins The Four Seasons are formed. Frankie Castelluccio changes his name to Valli on the advice of his first wife, the venomous Francine Valli (a criminally underused Freya Tingley). They enlist golden boy and talented songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) after they perform ‘Don’t Cry for Me’ together, with whose help they finally start getting attention. Their big break comes when Bob Crewe (deftly portrayed as more than a one-joke gay by Mike Doyle) picks them up and propels them to stardom. And from here, of course, the only way is down for our likely
It’s hard to pinpoint what is wrong with Jersey Boys, as there really isn’t very much wrong.
There’s just very little right either. It walks an awkward line between being a hard hitting biopic about the band’s mob connections and early criminal activities, while paying homage to its jukebox musical origins. Ultimately it succeeds at neither and is instead a strangely meandering tale interspersed by brief musical numbers, and that gets tiresome after 140 minutes.
It would be fine it if the film did go all out as a joyous musical, but its attempts at a serious drama are superficial. When the loan sharks are closing in, there is no sense of dread, as they’re the tap dancing variety of loan sharks. In fact, the closest things to sharks in the film are the fins on the cars. The most promising character is Francine Valli, but after her exciting introduction she is relegated to the background and instantly becomes an alcoholic. The second half hardly plays out like a musical at all, but rather a parade of characters we’re meant to care about but have hardly heard or seen of. Despite all of this Jersey Boys has a lot of heart, and the Broadway stars give solid performances, if perhaps Tommy DeVito could have been cast a little more menacing. John Llyod Young is a real vocal talent and perfect as a chipper lady chaser, but struggles a bit as a worn and beaten former hit maker with an ex wife and alimony.
Despite a plethora of talent, Jersey Boys is ultimately torn asunder by an identity disorder. Your correspondent is admittedly not a huge fan of musicals on the silver screen (though Hedwig and the Angry Inch stands among his favourite films), but one the many problems with Eastwood’s latest effort is its lack of being a musical. It suffers from a dearth of being anything at all really. Perfectly fine viewing to just switch off and relax, not so good if you want to hear The Four Seasons songs,or see them brought to life.
Jersey Boys opens on June 20
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