Jersey Boys Movie Review — Strong Performances and Flashy Musical Numbers Can’t Make Up for Weak Direction

 

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It’s funny. The movie that I wanted Jersey Boys to be ended up appearing during the end credits when the cast got together to do a reprise of “Sherry” and “December, 1963”. It was fun, energetic, and so wonderfully campy. However, the movie preceding this end credits scene never gains the momentum it needs to sustain a two hour plus movie. While the film finds its footing during its musical numbers, they’re always followed up with less than thrilling character scenes that kill any traction it seems to find.

This is all coming from a guy who has seen and loved the Broadway musical the film is based on. The entire movie/musical is framed by the quote: “you ask four guys, you get four different answers.” The entire story is told from the perspective of the original Four Seasons. Tommy DeVito tells the story of how the group came to be and established Tommy as the hothead of the group. While his determination is admirable, his methods are questionable. He champions Frankie (John Lloyd Young) who sees Tommy as his mentor. Tommy’s ways quickly catch up with him. When he is introduced as our first narrator, who directly addresses the camera much like the musical addresses the audience, he gives us a tour of the “old neighborhood” like he’s trying to schmooze us into buying his version of the story. Vincent Piazza turns in the kind of performance that begs an Oscar, but eventually the character’s antics become monotonous before he drops out of the film all together.

By the time we get to Bob Gaudio’s (Erich Bergen) section of the story we already have a bad taste in our mouth from the poorly paced first act. However, his narrated parts have the most charm. Partially because the character is so endearing, but also because his section moves so much of the story forward. With the inevitable falling apart beginning in this section the characters become more interesting and the relationships more interesting. Sadly, it doesn’t last.

The third part of the film is told from the perspective of Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), the quietest one of the group. While he spends much of the film in the background, this section brings us much of the deep character drama of the story. From Nick’s perspective the story seems dark. Not because of the actual events, but because of how personal the gripes between the characters seem.

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When we get to the third act of the film there’s a sense of fatigue. It’s almost as if there’s no reason for us to continue watching. Even the writing and characters get tired. However, the final twenty minutes offer us some salvation and gives John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony for his performance in the musical, the opportunity to give a fully affecting performance. The film is filled with fine performances from Christopher Walken, Mike Doyle, and Renee Marino, but it’s John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen, and Michael Lomenda who give the film so much life.

Jersey Boys is almost frustrating in a way. The entire time we are aching for the film to wow us. Sadly, it never really does. While the musical numbers are entertaining and the performances are fantastic, the movie never really allows them to truly take off. Of course, the musical version had the luxury of staging musical numbers as “book” scenes, but the film could have taken a different route than a straight bio-pic approach. It must be said that some of the film’s downfalls come from its close adaptation to the musical’s tedious plot structure, but it could have been easily avoided.

The greatest downfall of the film, however, comes from Clint Eastwood himself. While the extended musical numbers are a welcome relief from the main storyline, they seem like the only salvation from his cut and dry direction. I’m not saying that it’s a terrible choice, but a story like this begs for something more extravagant or at least inventive. His presentation is very straight forward and old-fashioned, which is always an odd choice for a musical film. However, from the perspective of a bio-pic, Jersey Boys gets the job done.

I realize that so much of this review sounds negative, but I will say that I was thoroughly entertained by the film. No matter what, it’s a compelling story that is littered with great performances and fantastic musical numbers. You can’t help but smile when that familiar tune starts to play. While I think it’s one of the lesser movies in the Eastwood canon, you can’t help but feel complete happiness when you leave the theater.

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