Jersey Boys seems like a man's musical. There's no big, fluffy production numbers, sequins, or showgirls in sight. It's the kind of movie musical that a man could say he went to see without his masculinity being threatened. After all, Jersey features a predominantly male cast and has plot strings that involve the mob. I originally thought that Clint Eastwood would be a natural choice to direct the big-screen adaption of the Broadway smash, but I'm starting to wonder if Eastwood ever thought he was in over his head.
Confession time: I've never seen Jersey Boys on stage, so seeing it on the big screen was my first time learning about the rise and fall of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. All I really knew about it was that little old ladies love it and the word fuck is used a lot. We meet Frankie (John Lloyd Young) as a 16 year-old living in New Jersey in 1951, and he's already known around the neighborhood for his unique singing voice. Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) is Frankie's no-good friend and the film's cocky narrator. He's responsible for not only eventually putting Frankie at the center of a singing trio, but he always ends up getting Frankie in trouble. Thinking ahead isn't Tommy's strong suit.
The narrator switches to Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), a songwriter and fourth member of the group. Narrating to the screen works on stage. You feel a connection to the characters, and it can feel a lot more intimate. In Jersey Boys, however, it doesn't work. When Tommy or Bob would start jabbering away to us, I was waiting for the other characters to notice and to ask them who the hell they were talking to.
Jersey Boys doesn't really feel like a musical. It's a biopic of Valli and the Four Seasons--which is totally fine. I wanted something bigger and more lavish. As the credits roll, all the characters come out and dance with each down a city street. They have instruments and they interact with each other. It's vibrant and colorful. This movie is drained of all color and energy. It's pale grey and silver and black. The musical aspect of it doesn't even kick in until twenty minutes into the film, and the performances are nice to watch. They're pleasant enough, but those little snippets of energy can't save the movie.
I applaud Eastwood's decision to cast all stage actors in the roles of The Four Seasons. Young, as Valli, is earnest and his voice is great. Piazza's Tommy is so frustratingly stubborn, and I loved Mike Doyle as Bob Crewe, the record producer who records their music. Normally, a fey character like Crewe would annoy the living hell out of me, but his presence contrasts nicely with all the tough guys surrounding him. The one person who isn't given enough to do is Renee Marino as Mary, Frankie's first wife. She and Young's first date is great, but she disappears a quarter way through the film. Move over, Mary, this is a guy's musical. If they ever decide to do a Patti LuPone biopic, please cast Marino.
Movie musicals don't come around a lot, but, when they do, they can be great. Thanks to a confusing timeline and muddy palette, this isn't one of them.