John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Christopher Walken
The 1950s and 1960s were loaded with a recognizable style; Frankie Valli (Young) and The Four Seasons were sonic emblems of that panache. Too bad director Clint Eastwood couldn’t inject some of that energy and vibrancy into Jersey Boys, this incredibly ponderous biopic about the boys from The Garden State.
Jersey Boys started as a wildly popular jukebox musical on Broadway. In it, scenes were cut short so that the performers could get to our favorite parts – the songs. In Eastwood’s hand, Jersey Boys has become a lugubrious, over-written behind-the music-style biography mostly drained of color, with long talky scenes that are only barely interrupted by the tunes.
Valli and his boys Masi, DeVito, and Gaudio (Piazza, Lomenda, Bergen) were young Jersey thugs who only had three ways to get out of their economically depressed neighborhoods. Two of those choices – the Army and the mafia – could get you killed. The third, fame, was a long shot. In fact, without some mafia help, perhaps The Four Seasons would’ve never made it.
What really saved the band was the sound, a unique blend of Valli’s falsetto and Gaudio’s clever pop hooks. This combo took them from petty crimes and dead-end jobs, out from singing under streetlamps, to performing across the world and racking up #1 hits.
It seems this stuff should inspire fairly enlivening storytelling. Instead, Eastwood decides to do is drain the film of most of its actual, physical color, making it look like lightly colorize black-and-white photography. Famous cinematographer Tom Sterns (The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty) just parks the camera for many of the musical moments instead of sweeping over the band and the crowd. Never does the music inspire a desperately needed montage to speed the story up a bit. In fact, we even have a strange jump back in history, as if Eastwood hadn’t covered the details enough already. Was the editor not allowed to cut anything? Dramatic scenes stretch on longer than they need to, and moments of partying excess are overplayed.
Furthermore, Eastwood doesn’t even try to cover the fact that the actors are lip-synching. They pull away from microphones, and yet their voices are loud and clear.
Also, just like in J. Edgar, the old age makeup gets the best of Eastwood. It looks clunky and unrealistic.
At least the acting is solid. The boys seem to wear their shared history well. Walken adds some Mafioso comedy. The tunes are wonderful to hear, and when the actors are given the space in the songs, they really sell them.
It’s just that the time period was so stylish, and yet very little of that seems to inform this 137-minute slog of a film. This was the birth of pop, and yet nothing here pops. Finally, and most tragically, the music is given serious short shrift. “It was the music; it was all about the music,” Valli says late in the film, but you’d never know it by watching Jersey Boys.