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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.76%
Worth A Look: 5.88%
Average: 11.76%
Pretty Bad70.59%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 5 user ratings

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Jersey Boys
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by Brett Gallman

"It only feels like it's four seasons long."
2 stars

Technically speaking, "Jersey Boys" is an adaptation of the popular Broadway show of the same name; however, it takes over two hours for the film to finally reveal its stage roots during its end credits, a baffling decision that's made even more perplexing by the sudden burst of energy provided by the lively closing number. I'm sure it's meant to shuffle a satisfied audience out happily snapping their fingers and tapping their toes all the way to the lobby, but it only made me wonder just where in the hell THAT movie was the entire time.

The answer lies somewhere beneath director Clint Eastwood's decidedly leaden take on the material, which chronicles the roller-coaster ride endured by Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) and The Four Seasons over the course of several years. It opens in the early 50s, when Valli is still just Francis Castelluccio, a baby-faced teen with an incredible falsetto that has him destined for stardom. Small-time hood and part-time musician Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) has aspirations of fame but also can't resist the allure of hustling. Sensing the opportunity to hit it big and make money, he forms a band with Frankie as lead singer, but his trio doesn't really take off until singer-songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) joins the outfit and provides a slew of hit singles.

Highs and lows ensue, but the whole thing feels like a downer under the auspices of Eastwood. Given the his preoccupation with musty, studious and downright stuffy material for the past decade-plus, Eastwood isn't what you'd consider a natural fit for a ritzy, spirited play like "Jersey Boys. "You really want to give him the benefit of the doubt though; I mean, if anyone can prove themselves to be a chameleon, it's the guy who has survived in Hollywood for over fifty years. Unfortunately, it's clear now that Eastwood is set in his ways, as he doesn't even bother to meet "Jersey Boys" halfway, choosing instead to strangle it with lifeless staging and an uninspired sense of momentum. It takes on the soulless look of an Eastwood Film, an aesthetic that feels so calcified and obvious that it's probably been turned into an Instagram filter by now.

Admittedly, the early-going is a serviceable (if not overly tidy) rags-to-riches story that establishes the gangster milieu from which the Four Seasons rose (I'd call it "Scorsese-lite," but it's not like Eastwood bothers to embrace the vigor and verve to even deliver a reasonable facsimile like David O'Russell). Having never heard their story, I found their emergence from such a background fascinating, and the early sequences involving Tommy's wheeling and dealing (including a humorously botched attempt at larceny) are the closest the film comes to being thrilling. Christopher Walken appears as a vaguely influential mob boss of sorts, but he doesn't exude menace so much as a familiar warmth;like his director, he's been defanged with age and has mellowed out, which would be sort of perfect here if Eastwood had any intention of capturing any sense of joy whatsoever.

Instead, it's like he's been drawn to the lows of this story, and you can almost feel him fast-forwarding through the band's meteoric rise to fame in order to get to the juicy drama that led to their demise. You'd think that someone who's been involved in showbiz for so long could find some semblance of the ecstasy of success. The Four Seasons's emergence is essentially treated as an afterthought, montaged away with all the enthusiasm of someone dropping a quarter into a jukebox to hear a song. Somehow, Eastwood stifles the band's electric sound and reduces it to an elaborate karaoke act; obviously, these songs still sizzle--it's just that you might as well buy a Greatest Hits CD. It'll have the same effect, only you won't feel Eastwood's heavy hand hanging over the proceedings, threatening to bury them.

When the drama inevitably mounts, "Jersey Boys" goes completely limp and exposes the danger of a paint-by-numbers biopic of this scale: eventually, Eastwood just yields to a dispassionate recitation of all the bad shit that eventually befell The Four Seasons, particularly Valli himself, who took it upon himself to shoulder Tommy's enormous debt, an act that's both virtuous and ill-conceived. It's the centerpiece of the film's saggy middle act, which unleashes a torrent of misery upon Valli and the band. Amidst the type of drama befitting your average Behind the Music episode (jealousy, money squabbles, girls, etc.), Valli's personal life is completely wrecked.

There's a great, fairly unique story to be found in Valli's arc, but I'm not sure Eastwood recognizes it. While it has all the trappings of the typical rock-and-roll lifestyle (his marriage crumbles, thus forcing him to skip out on his kids), his desire to remain faithful to his good-hearted roots is what dooms him. Taking on Tommy's debt is an extraordinarily loyal but misguided decision, yet it's treated like another float in the parade of Bad Shit. The years spent tirelessly touring on his to cover the debt should provide the richest chunk of the narrative, one that should tackle the personal and psychological fallout'instead, it's also montaged away and stops only to take stock of another personal tragedy in Valli's life, a development that's predictably resolved with what should be a rousing musical number to indicate the singer's inevitable return to form. By this point, the only intrigue (read: creeping terror) lies in the possibility that Eastwood will continue to crawl through the years and resort to more laughable old-age make-up.

In this respect, he doesn't disappoint: sure enough, he speeds ahead to 1990 for a hackneyed resolution, where the actors' physical burdens catch up to the film's shackles. It's here that you're reminded that Eastwood all but abandoned one of the principal hooks of the stage-show: the "Rashomon"-styled narrative that's delivered by the four band members throughout.

In the film, Tommy breaks the fourth wall early, and it's easy to assume he's just going to serve as the film's narrator throughout. Eventually, both Bob and bass player Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) intrude and offer their thoughts, with the latter taking the audiences on a detour back into time for an episode that could have easily been relayed chronologically. The decision to randomly embrace the source's structure feels completely arbitrary, and the final moments, where each of the Four Seasons address the audience and insist that "everybody remembers it how they need to," only reminds you that this was supposed to be anything but a conventional biopic.

"Jersey Boys" is such a frustrating bore because it's another one of those deceptive Eastwood films that carries the faint whiff of a Prestige Picture: it's glossy to the point of lifelessness, like a corpse that's been all dolled up for the coffin, and the performances are uniformly fine. Once the drama heightens, everyone's obviously tuned to "For Your Consideration" levels, but Young and Piazza do provide a solid backbone throughout. I can only assume the latter's insistence on bringing some life to the joint explains why he's duly pushed out of the back door for the final thirty minutes or so.

A note on the women here: all of them range from shrews (Valli's wife) to guilt trips (Valli's daughter, Francine) to straight-up objects (a reporter that Tommy and Frankie squabble over), just in case you were still wondering how nuanced this gets (should I also mention that Mike Doyle turns in a stereotypically flamboyant performance as Bob Crewe, the band's gay producer?).

From what I can gather, the "Jersey Boys" play is an infectious work with cross-generational appeal. The film is anything but that, perhaps because the material needs the spry touch of someone interested in capturing the lasting potency of The Four Seasons--not a tamed lion in winter looking only to trade in nostalgia. At 82 years old, you would hope Eastwood could provide some insight on a tumultuous life spent in show business.

The most disappointing thing here is that he has nothing to say at all, leaving the empty clanging of a quarter falling into a jukebox to serve as the equivalent of his contribution to the film.

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originally posted: 06/21/14 17:57:20
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival For more in the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/01/15 brian Not sure why critics are picking at Eastwood's direction, including this well-paced biopic. 4 stars
1/24/15 Jeff WIlder Musical numbers done well. But on the whole it's emotionally inert and overly familiar. 3 stars
6/23/14 Bob Dog Downbeat story/upbeat songs - superb performances! 5 stars
6/22/14 Donna porter Worth seeing and hearing. maybe not true to the letter but the acting/ singing are great. 5 stars
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  20-Jun-2014 (R)
  DVD: 11-Nov-2014


  DVD: 11-Nov-2014

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