Jersey Boys (2014)
A common feature of the biographical stage jukebox musical, of which 'Jersey Boys' was one of the most successful, is a reliance on the artist’s music to support an otherwise threadbare plot. In adapting their stage hit into a film, writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice shift the balance. Now more Jersey than Jukebox, this biopic wearily trudges through The Four Season’s catalogue of hits. Exacerbated by director Clint Eastwood’s relaxed pacing, Jersey Boys doesn’t so much Walk Like a Man than plod along like a zombie.
The format though remains basically the same with each member of the group taking their turn to break the fourth wall and tell the audience the band’s history from their perspective. Tommy DeVito sets the tenor of the film by informing us from the outset “There were three ways out of the neighborhood: You join the Army, maybe you get killed. You get mobbed up, you might get killed that way. Or you get famous. For us, it was two out of three.” As DeVito and bassist Nick Massi rotate through prison, lead singer Frankie Valli becomes acquainted with mob boss Gyp DeCarlo, who tears up every time he sings ‘My Mother’s Eyes’. Yet it’s not until DeVito’s friend Joe Pesci (yes that Joe Pesci) introduces him to songwriter Bob Gaudio that the band finds success. Taking over the film’s narration from DeVito, Gaudio announces “I never heard a voice like Frankie Valli's. After 30 seconds... I know I need to write for this voice.”
Herein lies another of the film’s flaws. Eastwood’s decision to cast members of the original stage production turns out to be as ill-feted as his use of the actual heroes on The 15:17 to Paris. Though John Lloyd Young is a talented singer in his own right, he is no Frankie Valli, something the pained expression on his face while seemingly struggling to reach the high notes tends to underscore. Not that he is helped by the staging of the musical numbers. Rather than providing a welcome respite from the overall tedium, the performances of The Four Seasons’ many hits are brief, lifeless and at times clumsily linked to plot points.
Eastwood’s impressive directorial filmography is littered with biopics, of which Jersey Boys was one of five on the trot. One can only hope that like John Huston, of whom he played a variation in White Hunter Black Heart, he limits himself to just the one musical.
as Frankie Valli
as Tommy DeVito
as Bob Gaudio
as Nick Massi
Nick Massi left the Four Seasons in 1965, five years before Tommy DeVito’s departure in 1970.