Bit of a Jersey Bore – ★★½
So if you’ve been to London or New York in the last decade you’ll have been inundated with publicity for the West End musical smash “Jersey Boys”. This is the stage adaptation of the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, an American pop group whose hey-day in the early 60s saw them going toe-to-toe with The Beatles for chart success. Just as John and Paul were adapting their sound and becoming the greatest band of all time, financial ruin split up The Four Seasons and sent Frankie off on a solo career.
Clint Eastwood has now been tapped to direct the film version of the musical. Star of the stage show John Lloyd Young reprises his role and does a decent enough job. It’s hard to buy him as a 16-year-old but once he gets a few years on him, he’s very believable as a New Jersey little-man-done-good. The most important aspect of his performance – his vocals – are incredible and really sells what a special talent Valli was and what an unusual asset his “stratospheric falsetto” was. Anyone with a passing interest in 20th century popular music will take something from the story. The musical numbers in the film are all performed well and while they’re a little cheesy, you end up wondering if it is possible to show four guys “discovering a sound” at a piano in a non-cheesy way.
The supporting cast is great with Christopher Walken in his element as mobster-turned-philanthropist Gyp DeCarlo. Walken as we know is a trained musical actor but unfortunately isn’t given the opportunity to give us a few bars. Mike Doyle as gay producer Bob Crewe is also a particular highlight as he, like Walken, gets the tone just right and understands that this is all meant to be a bit camp and so just goes for it. Also two words which provide all the film’s big laughs – JOE PESCI.
Where the film falls down is in its pacing. It’s a clunky 134 minutes and really could have been squeezed into half of that. There are two or three “great, home time, I’ll get my jacket” moments which then pull you right back in as you realise this story isn’t done yet. The film also manages to feel pretty cheap which is a stunning thing to say about a Clint Eastwood film. Regular Eastwood collaborator Tom Stern is on cinematography duties again, but it’s hard to say there are any defining images that stick in your mind. There’s also the usual complaint about dodgy wigs and makeup being called upon to show the passage of time on these young men.
There are some true moments of magic in Jersey Boys, with the sequence where Frankie first performs “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” a real highlight. You’ll also know within about ten minutes if the West Side Story meets Grease look and feel is for you. Personally the talk of “pizza pie” and “momma’s meatballs” all got a bit too much and had me yearning for the heroin and hard liquor we usually get in big music biopics of the period like Ray and Walk the Line.