Saturday, June 21

REVIEW: Jersey Boys

Directed by Clint Eastwood
2014 Musical Biography
2 hours 14 minutes
From Warner Bros.

John Lloyd Young
Erich Bergen
Vincent Piazza
Michael Lomenda
Mike Doyle
Christopher Walken

I dunno... maybe if I hadn't just seen the hit musical play about a year ago.  Recalling that I left the theater practically dancing to my car, with the sounds of soaring trumpets in my ears and familiar bits of so many hit tunes spilling out of my mouth, I hoped to duplicate that experience in leaving the film.  Not even close.  It may be that moviegoers will enjoy this film more than I did if they didn't see the play.  I'm guessing that will be the case.

When I first heard that Clint Eastwood was going to direct it, I immediately thought oh no, no, no.  (Was Rob Marshall-- of Chicago fame-- busy?  It needed his panache.)  But the more I thought about it, I decided to give Eastwood the benefit of the doubt.  He was a musical kind of guy.  Didn't he write the scores of about seven of his films?  He directed Bird, which certainly had a little something to do with music, as did Honkeytonk Man.  Maybe to stretch the point I could add he did some singing in Paint Your Wagon.  Nonetheless I have returned to my original notion.  I don't think this was a good choice.  It seems like the old warrior has dropped his spear.  He didn't make my day.

That panache that I mentioned...?  Yeah, that's what was missing.  Mostly it was pretty blah.  I wanted some thrumming electricity to those songs... some gusto, especially in a showstopper at the end.  Yeah, yeah, I know they intended what I saw to be a showstopper but it seemed as sluggish as the rest of the affair.  Even the mean streets theme (a way over-done segment on paying back loans to the mob) wasn't so mean.  We needed something to knock the film out of the park and Eastwood just didn't deliver.

The story of The Four Seasons is a rags-to-riches one in which a band gave us one of the most enduring sounds of the 60s while privately trying to get along with one another.  We are treated to the glorious falsetto sounds of lead singer, Frankie Valli; the band's conceited leader, the destructive Tommy DeVito; prolific songwriter Bob Gaudio, and Nick Massi, who got a bit lost in the shuffle in real life and in the movie. The film is at its most lively when we are treated to the various skirmishes and hassles the members have with one another.

What was a good move here is the casting.  Kudos to Eastwood for casting Broadway Tony award-winning lead, John Lloyd Young, who is nothing short of terrific (although a bit long in the tooth to be playing a 16-year old).  While I had seen him perform bits of his Valli role on various shows, I had never seen him in person.  This will be as in person as I will get and I am grateful.  I'm sure he is, too.

Two other cast members, Bergen and Lomenda, have been in various incarnations of the play, so we have three of the four bringing some history to their parts.  New to the piece altogether is Piazza who arguably is the best thing about it (apart from Young's singing) in a role that any actor could dig his teeth into.

That old scene-stealer Christopher Walken is not given much to do except to lend his name and steal scenes.  Imagine casting him as a mob guy.

All four lead actors also talk directly to the camera.  One even stops singing a song to do so.  You know what?  I don't like it.  It is distracting and disrupts the flow and annoys the hell out of me.  (The only time I have ever seen this technique work well at all was in Shirley Valentine.)  It was also done in the play-- talking to the audience-- but it seems to work better on the stage.

Throughout we hear one or more characters say... it's about the music.  Well, yeah.  Too bad it seemed somewhat of an afterthought here.  Movies of plays usually open things up a bit since movies have so much more at their disposal than what we see on a simple stage.  Eastwood did open it up but that seemed to result in the songs being carelessly thrown in here and there, some not even being sung from start to finish. 

Guess what?  I wanted to hear them from start to finish and I wanted to feel some excitement sitting there in the dark waiting for the next great Four Seasons number.  I'm still waiting...

The Directors


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