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Film Critic for Twin Cities Live

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Movie Review: JERSEY BOYS

Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Michael Lomenda, Erich Bergen, Johnny Cannizzaro, Christopher Walken, Joseph Russo

Every year we get a new movie musical adapted from a hit Broadway show. As a music theater lover, it can be great seeing an exciting Broadway musical brought to life in a different medium. It gets people who may have seen the movie to go back and get tickets for the staged version or vice versa. We’ve seen big Hollywood actors take on this genre like Meryl Streep (Mamma Mia) or Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables) and sometimes we get actors from the original Broadway casts reprising their roles in the film version like Rent or The Producers. While that sounds like a great idea in theory, the results are not always the best as playing the role for the camera is very different than playing the role to reach an audience member at the back of the house. The movie version of the massive hit Jersey Boys has made its way to the big screen nine years after it premiered on the Great White Way. John Lloyd Young steps back into the role of Frankie Valli after creating the role on Broadway.

A sixteen-year-old Frankie Valli (Young) and his friends Tommy DeVito (Piazza) and Nick DeVito (Cannizzaro) can’t seem to keep themselves out of trouble. Somehow they think that they will be able to rob a massive safe, put it in the trunk of a car, and not get caught. Wrong. While his other friends come and go out of jail, Frankie seems to be getting a pass. Mob boss Gyp DeCarlo (Walken) keeps a close eye on him and acts as a mentor of sorts to Frankie and his friends. Tommy gets Frankie to join his singing trio along with Nick Massi (Lomenda), but the success of the group waivers around which members are coming and going based on jail sentences. The trio becomes a quartet after songwriter Bob Gaudio (Bergen) joins the group at the suggestion of Joe Pesci (yes, the star of Goodfellas) to Tommy. Bob is determined to write songs to go along with Frankie’s smooth falsetto voice. The group changes their name to The Four Seasons and start cranking out the hits to the adoration of fans everywhere. Tension starts to rise among the guys as they all have different approaches in dealing with the fame and fortune that comes into play.

If you have seen the staged musical, it’s hard to watch the movie and not think about the show. You desperately try to separate both mediums as there are changes that will inevitably have to be made. It has been a few years since the last time I saw the musical, so I thought I could go in with a fresh perspective without doing the unjust comparison. As I sat watching this drawn out and odd take on Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, I couldn’t help but think about the musical and how vastly different they are in the end. If the movie was actually good, I wouldn’t have minded so much. Three of the four actors (Young, Lomenda, Bergen) playing the Four Seasons have previously played their roles in the staged production whether it was on Broadway, the national tour, or the Las Vegas production. Director Clint Eastwood specifically wanted actors that had played those roles before. Vincent Piazza who plays Tommy DeVito (Boardwalk Empire) is the exception to that casting requirement. He is brand new to this story which serves him the best as he seems the most authentic and natural with his acting for a movie musical. Even though Young won a Tony for playing Frankie Valli, he has a hard time transitioning into playing it for the screen. He has to play Valli through the many decades the film covers, but often comes across as over acting with facial gestures too large for the intimate camera. I hate to play the age card, but for someone in his late thirties, he is far too old to be playing the sixteen-year-old Valli that opens the movie.

Eastwood has an adoration and love of music as he has composed the scores for many of his recent movies. Even though he has made many fantastic films in the past, he was the wrong choice to tackle this story. Vince Vaughn was originally slated to direct, but I don’t think he was right either. Eastwood’s movies tend to be slower in pace which isn’t always a bad attribute. He uses that same tempo here which doesn’t work for a big screen adaptation of a jukebox musical. There is an exciting drive and energy in the musical that is completely missing from the movie. The musical makes you want to get up, dance, and sing along to the hits you know while the movie never gave me that feeling. The movie seems to focus on the drama behind the scenes of the group instead of celebrating the music that they created that has lasted generations upon generations. The high energy performance numbers seem to practically disappear for the second half of the movie. At that point, you may hear some of The Four Seasons songs but it’s simply used as music for the soundtrack. Even the cinematography feels odd and choppy at times. During their concert scenes, I just wanted the camera to face the four guys and be still to capture them all in one shot. It felt too busy trying to shoot the performances at side angles that felt uneven.

The trailer made the film look like it had promise. It seemed like a natural and easy transition from stage to screen. I knew the June release was suspect as it seemed like a strange release for this type of movie. Maybe the studios felt disappointed in it so they hoped it would get buried by the other summer blockbusters or maybe they knew they couldn’t compete with Into the Woods and Annie in the Christmas time slot. The movie isn’t a complete waste as the music is still catchy, but the movie just needs more of it. I always like hearing about the history behind a musical group, so I was kept mildly interested in the story. I went in expecting a strong adaptation of the stage musical, but this take on Jersey Boys feels more like a cheap behind-the-scenes look at the drama amongst the guys. 

Is it worth your trip to the movies? Skip the film and wait for the tour of the musical to come to town. It comes to the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis April 28-May 3, 2015.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Ticket Stubs
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