Caught somewhere between musical biopic and comedic melodrama, Clint Eastwood‘s movie adaptation of Jersey Boys doesn’t fully deliver on either.
The strength of this film, as with the musical on which it’s based, is in the songs. The songs, still affective today, pick you up and sweep you along, making you forgive much but, at over two hours long, not that much.
Eastwood as director for a smash-hit stage musical to silver screen conversion just seems like an odd choice. He creates, as always, a faultless aesthetic – the picture perfect era sets, costumes, cars etc – but his gently panning camera moves and tight, ‘no fuss’ style feel miscast on what is, by its very nature, a big, loud and theatrical production.
And it’s with this lack of staging that Eastwood chooses to focus more on the relationships within the group, finding some genuine warm moments and decent laughs as he charts the rise and inevitable fall of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
Brilliant performances from original broadway cast members, John Lloyd Young, Michael Lomenda and, in particular, Erich Bergen, who’s captivating as Bob Gaudio, make the characters charming and believable within context. But it’s this context that the film can’t escape. It’s a musical. A few less beautifully restrained scenes of dialogue and a few more of those famous big show tunes would have the audience clapping their hands and tapping their feet, sadly only achieved as the end credits roll and we’re treated to a musical-style curtain call finale. It does stay true to the spirit of the stage show, keeping the characteristic asides (now as straight-to-camera monologues) and nuanced comedy interplay of four guys telling the same story from different perspectives: “Everyone remembers it how they need to”.
The one majorly decisive plot turn, which absolutely requires emotional involvement, is so underwhelming that it renders all the overly careful character construction that preceded as a waste of time. A heart-wrenching moment never left hearts so utterly un-wrenched. However, it’s the songs that provide the lifeblood of this picture, punctuating the laboured story progression, thumping along from hit to hit just fine. If only the film as a whole could hit the emotional highs of Frankie Valli’s electric voice.
Still, if you love the musical then there’s plenty to sing about in this slightly long and flat adaptation. If you haven’t seen the musical then it still makes for an interesting, well played and entertaining experience. And if you don’t go home with one of those irresistible tunes ringing in your ears then, well, shame on you.