Title: Jersey Boys
Director: Clint Eastwood
Major Players: John Llloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Christopher Walken
Out Of Five: 3
I am, to coin a phrase, a little worried about Clint. His most recent films – Hereafter and J Edgar – haven’t been up to snuff and, in fact, he’s not made a decent movie since Changeling back in 2008. So I was hoping that his latest, Jersey Boys, would be a return to form.
His version of the hit Broadway and West End show is an offbeat choice for a director who’s been quoted as saying he doesn’t really like musicals. A number of projects potentially had his name attached – albeit loosely – but this was the one where it stuck.
It traces the rise, fall and rise again of Frankie Valli And The Four Seasons, starting with their wrong side of the tracks upbringing in New Jersey to their success as a group with the addition of Bob Gaudio as songwriter – and a bit of help from a local mobster. But debts pile up. The band splits, with Valli going it alone to repay the money and in the 90s, they’re eventually inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame.
It isn’t really a musical, though. Instead of the plot stopping while the cast burst into song, all the numbers are performed in either clubs, on TV or in recording studios. With one exception. Why, when he’s clearly decided that he’s not made a musical, does Eastwood end the movie with a rousing finale featuring every single member of the cast? It’s as if he can’t make up his mind – and, if he doesn’t know, what chance do the rest of us have?
Yet, despite taking the original show outside the confines of the theatre, the story still feels stuck there. Several of the band members talk directly to the camera – and, therefore, the audience – a theatrical technique that goes back to Shakespeare and further. And, again unaccountably, it’s used in the earlier and later scenes of the film, but not much in the middle.
Overall, Eastwood takes a pretty conventional bio-pic approach to the story – their rise and fall, the temptations that go with fame, the broken marriage, the distant children, a reconciliation ….. mixing it with a large helping of 50s and 60s nostalgia. So, if you love the clothes and cars from the period, you’ll love its look, even down to the sepia toned scenes from Frankie’s teenage years.
But what it really lacks is energy. Given the nature of the music, Jersey Boys is unexpectedly low key so, although you tap your toes to the songs while they’re on screen, you don’t necessarily walk out of the cinema humming them. Part of the reason is that the film is simply too long, lingering over the band’s early days. Some sharper editing would have not only brought down the running time, but given it the zip it desperately needs.
That said, I was probably out of sync with a large chunk of the audience at the screening I attended. They clapped along to all the songs and laughed enthusiastically at all the jokes, although they could well have been the winners of the competition on a certain London radio station to promote the film. And the free bubbly might have helped.
Eastwood famously insisted on not going for big names to play members of the group and went for actors who’d performed in the stage show in the States. They’d all played the same parts on Broadway and/or in the touring version and, thankfully, they transfer well to the screen. The only familiar face from the movies belongs to Christopher Walken in the small role of the local mobster who backs the band. He gets all the best gags in the film, but a believable gangster he is not. He’s more like a wealthy, benevolent granddad.
Jersey Boys is solid, conventional stuff, but it doesn’t add anything new to the bio-pic format, nor does it translate the stage production’s fizz to the big screen. Sadly, Clint still hasn’t regained his touch. His next outing, American Sniper, isn’t due for release until next year so, until then at least, we’ll have to console ourselves with DVDs of Unforgiven and Mystic River.
Jersey Boys opens around the UK on Friday, 20 June.