Next time you think about getting involved with the music business, make sure you cut-off all ties with the mob first.
In the early 50’s, a small, sheltered Italian-American kid by the name of Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young) hung out with his local crew, causing all sorts of shenanigans, wooing the ladies, and, every once and awhile, getting a chance to play a gig or two and hopefully make some money. However, they all knew one thing, and that was if they were to ever get serious or big in with their career as musicians in anyway, they’d have to put their former-lives on the back-burner and focus on the future. And for awhile, everything seemed to be going all mighty and swell for Frankie Valli and the boys – they had a new name (the Four Seasons), wives, kids, a whole lot of money, television appearances, and all of the fame any of them could have ever wanted. However, one member of the band, Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), who was actually the founding one, brings them all down when his sketchy past of being apart of the mob and owing a whole lot of money comes back to bite him, as well as the rest of the Four Seasons, in the ass. But thankfully, they can always rely on the music, but more importantly, Frankie’s lovely, soothing voice of pure love and affection.
Or, so I’m told from my long, lost, Italian-relatives.
Anyway, first things first, I think I need to get this off my chest as soon as possible, so that’s why I am doing it now: I have never seen Jersey Boys on Broadway. Though I’ve always heard it was a show that’s right up my alley, I just never found myself seeing it and sort of relied on this film-adaptation to hold me over until I eventually cough up all the money I can to get on with my life and change that. Sadly though, I guess I didn’t realize that this adaptation was actually one done by none other than Mr. Clint Eastwood himself.
That’s right, people. You read me right: Clint Eastwood directed a film-adaptation of Jersey Boys, a musical about the happenin’ and swingin’ times of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons during the 50’s and early 60’s.
If that at all sounds strange, don’t worry, because it totally should. Eastwood has always been known for directing dark, heavy dramas that rarely so ever have moments of fun, happiness, or even a smidgen of music in them. Not saying that each and everyone of his movies are as depressing as they come, but having already seen my fair share of Eastwood-directed films, I can easily say that a musical is definitely a strange choice for Eastwood to be apart of.
And that’s one of the main problems with this movie: Eastwood’s direction. See, I don’t know what it is that pushed Eastwood himself to go through with it and give this adaptation a shot or two, but it doesn’t feel right. Maybe he had some money already thrown into the project, or just wanted to show everybody his light and colorful side, but whatever the reason is, it doesn’t quite show and the movie suffers because of it.
That’s not saying Eastwood does a bad job as director; in fact, I’m sort of glad that somebody with enough attention to detail and character-development was on board with something like this, which could have easily been a song-and-dance number the whole way through. It’s just that when you watch this movie, something feels slightly off. There’s at least a good hour or so of this material where the movie sets up these characters, the lives they’re born into, their personalities and their introduction into the music world. It’s the same sort of introduction we get to see in these biopics, but because this time, it’s during the 50’s, it makes it feel more timely and almost like a slice-of-life. It’s nothing outstanding, but for the most part, it kept me happy, smiling and having a good time with myself.
But then, sadly, something strange happens during the middle-half of the movie when all of the cards are laid-out on the table and there needs to be a conflict with this story. I get that what eventually starts to cause tension amongst the band is the same in the play, but that still doesn’t mean it has to be as corny as it is here. Because, for the most part, a lot of moments feel as stagey as they can get. Once again, I realize that’s what it’s supposed to be like, but it took away from the realism of the story, and made it seem like we weren’t really watching a legion of dedicated, childhood friends growing apart; it just seemed like a bunch of really good-looking, somewhat talented dudes acting like they’re angry with one another and want out of whatever they’ve got going on.
And to make matters worse, once this second-half rolls on in, everything gets melodramatic and really takes the air out of this whole movie. Not saying that it was perfect going into this half, but for what it was, it was fun and entertaining, just like any musical should be. It doesn’t have to be a life-changer of any sort; it just has to get you to want to tap your feet, smile, laugh, and have a good time, regardless of if you like musicals or not. However, what happens is that Eastwood doesn’t quite know what he wants to do with this material, or even how to keep it going on and on, so he creates this strange mixture of uninteresting drama, with musical-numbers that just feel shoe-horned in there so that people don’t get upset when the Four Seasons aren’t shaking or jiving their hips every so often.
Once again though, I’ll repeat, whatever interest Eastwood already had invested into this project, good for him. Not only does this movie show that his style can at least cross over to other film genres, but that he himself, is an aging-director that isn’t afraid to test himself out a bit and try new things. It’s actually quite a revelation to have a director of his age and his stature in the movie business to keep on pushing himself, and see what it is that he works with next, because so many directors just pack it in once they reach a certain age or mental-zone. But not Eastwood. Nope, that guy just continues to truck on along and from what it looks like, he’s not stopping anytime soon either.
But that still doesn’t excuse the inherent oddness of this material and it’s a shame that somebody as talented as him had to get bogged down by material that seems like it should have just stayed on the stage in the first place. Or maybe adapted by somebody who has a better, clearer idea of how musicals work when nobody’s singing or dancing, and just talking. That’s what most musicals need to survive and if they don’t have much of that, or it isn’t working well, then the musical itself is just a boring time.
And nobody wants that! Especially not during the summer!
Speaking of things that should have just stayed on the stage because they’re a lot better on it, the cast is relatively dull too. However, I guess there’s a reason for that because Eastwood cast mostly the same people who played these parts on the stage, in these same roles. Ordinarily, that should work because it’s not like these actors have to do or try anything different with a role they’ve probably done about 20 or so times. But that’s what’s so strange about this movie, because not everybody’s very good, while others just absolutely do wonders and show us why they deserve to be in front of the screen more than on the stage.
One person in particular who seems really out of his league is the one who is playing our main-focus, Franki Valli. It’s not that John Lloyd Young is bad per se; it’s just obvious he’s a bit out of his depth and unable to command the screen, despite him being the reason why this story is told to us. In a way, he’s our main protagonist and it’s a problem whenever you’re lead just seems ill-equipped to really make anything work. Sure, his singing is on-point (or at least the recording of his vocals are), but that’s all he has to show. Whereas with somebody like Vincent Piazza, who plays Valli’s best buddy, Tommy DeVito, seems like he was tailor-made for this role as well as the camera. That’s why it’s a no-brainer why Eastwood would decide to cast him again.
But John Lloyd Young? Eh, he could have done better.
At least Christopher Walken was around, so you know it can’t be all that bad.
Consensus: Though it’s nice to see Eastwood wanting to try something new and different behind the camera, Jersey Boys still can’t help but feel like a dull, unexciting musical that doesn’t know how to handle neither of its drama, or its musical-numbers, very well.
5 / 10 = Rental!!