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Jersey Boys movie falls flat (Review) June 20, 2014

Posted by ronannarbor in Movies.
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Some of us have been waiting for this movie for a long time. Some of us heard about this movie about the 6th or 7th time we saw Jersey Boys on stage (my last time was in SF last year). Some of us were a bit worried when we heard that Clint Eastwood would be directing. Well, it turns out to be a legitimate concern. Those of us who have seen this electric musical on stage multiple times will appreciate the effort and know it falls short. And those of us who haven’t seen Jersey Boys on stage will wonder why it won all those Tony’s and audience accolades internationally. Because none of that electricity is evident in the flat, poorly edited, and quite frankly pedestrian movie adaptation.

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John Lloyd Young (Frankie Valli), Erich Bergen (Bob Gaudio), Vincent Piazza (Tommy DeVito), and Michael Lomenda (Nick Massi)

So what goes wrong? Well, for a script that generally maintains the same script as the stage show, any addition to the original script is just bad. There are a couple scenes added to flesh out daughter Francine’s part that are painfully bad. The entire opening sequence of the musical (“Ces soirees-la”) is gone in favor of a dull sequence that is all talk and no music.

What else goes wrong — well, Clint Eastwood is just the wrong director for the musical — he directs as if it is a drama with music, rather than a musical with some dialogue keeping it all together.  Either he (or the editing team) don’t understand what makes a musical moment…where closeups should come during a song…where climaxes in a musical line fall…and scenes drag on forever — you know that five minute scene in Act II where the band falls apart– it goes on for 11 minutes in the movie and it just gets longer and longer — and all without any noticable addition of dialogue!

The balance between the four members of the original Four Seasons is off here — so well done in the stage musical with each member serving as narrator for a quarter of the show — here that skews to entirely too much Tommy DeVito — in fact, the entire first three quarters of the movie feels like it is about him, and not Frankie Valli.

But here’s the cardinal sin of musical movies — almost none of the songs are performed in their entirety — in fact, except for the numbers I am about to list NONE of the songs are performed in their entirety. What specifically drives the musical on stage is the songs — which grow to an electric state near the end of the show. Here, songs start, then peter out – or the action carries elsewhere with underscoring – or its heard in the background over a radio.

The only songs performed in their entirety, and not surprisingly the highlights of the movie are “Cry For Me” (Gaudio auditions for the group); “Sherry” (performed in what looks like one take on American Bandstand); “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” (terrific and gives John Lloyd Young his sole “moment” in the show, given they cut “My Eyes Adored You” to a single phrase); and the superb “Oh What a Night” (Which is performed over the closing credits, and is the only scene in the entire movie that is staged similarly to the Broadway show and gives some spark of life — unfortunately that spark of life at my showing was with lights full up as the audience was leaving).

The performances here are uniformly superb — with John Lloyd Young and Erich Bergen being particular standouts, but Piazza and Lomenda also get their moments to shine.  These four supply some much needed life. Unfortunately too much of that time is spent talking (or yelling) and not singing.

The decision to desaturate the color in the film does it no favors (though it does make the guys look a bit younger than their real ages, which is a benefit in the first half of the film where these 30-38 years olds are playing teens). Later scenes that should burst with color do not. Only the final sequence over the credits is in full color. There’s a particularly shoddily disturbing cinematography sequence that is set on a snowy day that is so clearly filmed in sunny California that you can actually see the demarkation line where snowfall outside stops and the sunny street in the background takes over.

You should see this movie. I am giving it 2 stars out of 4, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it — you SHOULD see it, but temper your expectations (as a friend stated earlier today) about seeing “Jersey Boys the Musical” — you are seeing a dramatic movie BASED on a stage musical — you are not seeing a musical. See it because we want to see more musicals on film (although it would be nice if they were actually musicals once they get translated to screen).  See it because these four guys are terrific. You’ll be entertained, but you won’t be blown away like you should have been.

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