Print Edition: July 2, 2014
Clint Eastwood has been in the film-making business for decades, dipping into drama, comedy, and the occasional musical. The 84-year-old director has never let his age get in the way of doing what he loves, and while his best may be behind him, he still puts great effort into his works. Jersey Boys is one of those works.
Turning a musical into a film is usually a standard transition: keep in the musical numbers, make the choreography extravagant, and let the tunes drive the story. Eastwood takes a slightly different approach and turns it into a musical drama of the likes of Ray or Walk the Line.
Since it is about kids from Jersey, he adds the flair of Goodfellas with narration from each of the four members. The characters emit the Jersey attitude and style, and sometimes great humour peeks through the drama. Bob Gaudio’s comment on Liberace’s mannerisms being “theatrical” was both a great joke as well as eye-opening about the gay community back in the ‘50s. Their colourful producer Bob Crewe, played by Mike Doyle, adds even more uplifting flair.
The language of the film isn’t overwhelming either; there are some conflicts between the band members which would have felt hammy or out-of-place if a few curses weren’t tossed around.
Breaking the fourth wall to narrate was interesting at first, but washed out by the end. Each character tells his own side of the story, but the narrative doesn’t flow together. Characters appear and disappear before their importance can be fleshed out. The timeline also has a few hiccups, with a flashback that is out of order with other events. This isn’t a major issue but is only one of the many cracks as the story goes on.
These complaints are due to a lack of running time, as the film is trying to squeeze in as much of the Broadway production as possible. The passage of time is not clear, and you are left trying to figure out the year by judging the costumes. The pieces are there, but they just weren’t all put in their proper place.
Clint Eastwood loves flawed characters and the members of the Four Seasons are no exception. While the film’s narrative does vary in quality at times, the performances from the main cast are exceptional. The wayward egos and constant deception unravel as the group’s rise to stardom becomes their kryptonite. The fact that the four main characters are all played by novice actors is an interesting gamble on Eastwood’s part. John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony for playing Frankie Valli in the Broadway production, brings a disparaging look into the life of the singer. While the man possessed great talent, his need for codependency in the band would lead to falling out with his friends and family.
While the infighting and drama are compelling, it’s the music everyone really cares about. The vocal performances by the cast of the Four Seasons are top-notch. Young is able to truly capture Frankie Valli’s iconic sound and stage presence. Erich Bergen also provides fantastic vocals as the group’s writer and pianist Bob Gaudio. A wide collection of classic tunes also play in the background. Other than one flat performance of the Angels’ “My Boyfriend’s Back,” everything from a musical standpoint was top-notch. After the film ended, I had a kink in my ankle from tapping it throughout the show.
While Jersey Boys has issues with its narrative structure, the acting and music are fantastic. Despite lack of experience in big film productions, the cast of the Four Seasons all bring captivating insights to one of the most loyal and self-loathing bands of the ‘60s. Great drama and great tunes prove Eastwood still has what it takes to make quality entertainment, and I hope he tries again in the future. The music is the main course; the drama was the dessert.