DIRECTED BY Clint Eastwood
STARS John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza
Erich Bergan, Vincent Piazza, John Lloyd Young and Michael Lomenda in Jersey Boys. (Photo: Warner Bros.)
Catching up with Jersey Boys on a weekday afternoon, I was not surprised that there were only about 15 of us in the theater auditorium. What did catch my eye was the fact that I was the only male present and the additional realization that I was the only person under 65. The elderly women present definitely dug the movie, with several even clapping as the biopic's subjects, The Four Seasons, wrapped up performances of such hits as "Sherry" and "Big Girls Don't Cry." All of this begs one simple question: Is Jersey Boys the Magic Mike of the senior set?
Why not? In a summer season typically dominated by superhero sagas and dumdum comedies, it's only right to offer toe-tapping entertainment to older moviegoers who presumably wouldn't know a ninja turtle from a galaxy guardian. I just wish that the end result had been a bit better. Like other screen adaptations of acclaimed Broadway smashes, films like Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera and The Producers, this one loses a bit in the transition from floorboards to clapboards. To be sure, it's a handsomely mounted production, and a sound decision was made in casting the band members with relative newcomers: John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli (Young won the Tony for essaying the part on Broadway), Erich Bergan as Bob Gaudio, Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito and Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi are note-perfect (in more ways than one) in their respective roles.
But the problem begins with the selection of Clint Eastwood as director (not that I imagine first choice Jon Favreau would have been any better). Eastwood's deep appreciation of jazz is well-documented — director of Bird, executive producer of Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser, composer on several of his own pictures — but there's never been any indication that he would be able to pull off a pop effort like this one. An excellent filmmaker when it comes to pensive, low-key dramas, he never quite locates the proper beat for this tale, and he's furthered hindered by a script (by the show's scribes Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice) that often fails to break away from the rigid template that constricts too many musical biopics. The film also has trouble with time: There's often no sense of what's taking place when, and when we do know, it sometimes doesn't ring true (as when a girl in 1951 talks about wanting to see the new movie The Blob, which in reality wasn't released until 1958).
Jersey Boys contains enough pleasant ingredients to warrant a mild recommendation, but it's clearly at its best when Clint curtails the characters' kvetching and simply lets the music play.