It’s an interesting move to release the adaptation of the Broadway hit Jersey Boys smack in the middle of the summer season, especially if the musical doesn’t star Adele Dazeem. On top of that, the film is about a doo-wop group whose core audience are probably baby boomers, not CGI-craving, catatonic young folks. And it’s directed by a man who talks to furniture. But improbably, it’s June and here we have Jersey Boys, directed by our favorite loony celebrity Republican, Clint Eastwood.
Of course it helps if you’re a fan of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and the story documents their street thug origins, rise to fame, and their eventual dramatic dissolution. All the hits are also there: “Rag Doll,” “Working My Way Back to You,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and many more.
I saw the version in Vegas and as far as I can tell—full disclosure—or as far as my mother can tell, this version was just as enjoyable and true to the background material. In fact, this review is really all about my mother. And your mother. She is gonna love this movie. All those doo-wop tunes were from her time, not yours. During a highpoint, much hub-bub is made about playing “the song.” “Just play the song!” And Valli begins crooning those familiar lyrics: “You’re just too good to be true / Can’t take my eyes off you…” Somehow when we finally hear that hit though, it feels anti-climactic.
But then maybe it’s because I’m a non-objective 80s cinephile who can’t forget Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys bringing down the theater in a…well… fabulous montage sequence of the same song. There’s also the fact that the musical then goes on with one more act with their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, complete with some truly atrocious old age make-up.
John Lloyd Young, who originated the Broadway role as Frankie Valli lacks a certain screen presence. Yes he has a nice voice and we see female, and even male members of the audience, in rapture with him, but once he’s not singing, he just looks kinda pouty. His performance probably went over better on the stage where he wasn’t at the mercy of Eastwood’s choice of unrelenting Les Miserables-style close-ups.
Only Christopher Walken manages to make an impression as a mobster supporter who, in the end, really doesn’t seem to do much to help them. But the actor manages to bring comic timing to his nefarious dealings.
It’s sad that the movie only truly comes to Broadway musical life during Walken’s scenes and during the end credits that has most of the cast dancing and singing down a street. The movie really could have used more of that energy. In the end, something is just wrong with the tone. At times it wants to be a hard edged tale of boys rising from the mean street of New Jersey and at other times, it wants to be the full fledged musical catalogue of the group’s hits with some slapstick mook comedy thrown in for kicks.
Or maybe I just didn’t get Jersey Boys because, as the movie keeps reminding us, I’m not from Jersey.
Jersey Boys is currently playing in theaters everywhere.