Biopics, especially musical biopics, often tell the blood sweat and tears story of singers/songwriters rising from deprived childhoods or troubled backgrounds (queue ‘X-factor’ style soulful music) before finding fortune and fame through their musical talent. Sometimes that high can be followed by the low of drink, drugs and early death. But it is a characteristic of the genre that the journey can be fundamentally dull for the viewer unless presented with a bit of vim and style.
A great example of that was “Beyond the Sea” with Kevin Spacey, telling the life story of Bobby Darrin. It had all the pot-boiling ingredients mentioned above, but was delivered with such cinematic verve and style that you were totally carried along with it. Similarly the recent cinematic version of Les Miserables was filled with so many compelling performances and great set-pieces that it was, and remains, one of the most emotionally-charged films for me of recent years.
Unfortunately neither is the case with Clint Eastwood’s cinematic version of Jersey Boys, the Broadway and West End smash hit telling the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. (By the way, is it just me that’s confused that the “and” in their name should be “of” since there were only four of them in total??).
I’m a great fan of the multi-talented Eastwood, both as an iconic actor, director and composer. But in my eyes this story was told in such a linear, corseted and boring manner that it might as well have been filmed on the stage in the style of the recent Keira Knightley version of Anna Karenina. The songs themselves are (obviously) great, but they only occasionally enliven a film that is basically dull, dull, dull.
John Lloyd Young plays Valli, skirting a criminal record (excuse the pun) together with his fellow Boyz from the ‘Hood but blessed with the voice of an angel. He is taken under the guiding protection of the Godfather of the neighbourhood, played with glee by the wonderful Christopher Walken: Walken’s scenes are some of the highlights of the film.
Erich Bergen who plays the brilliant songwriter Bob Gaudio is very good, with Lloyd Young and the other members of the band, Vincent Piazza and Michael Lomenda, being perfectly adequate. However, none of them really set the screen on fire with their chemistry. However a standout for me was Joseph Russo playing bowling pin setter and pubescent pre-actor Joe Pesci (yes, that Joe Pesci) who (good trivia fact) was the one who was instrumental (excuse the pun again) in putting the successful line-up of the band together: he plays an almost but not quite recognisable Pesci, all bug-eyed wildness and excitement.
The ‘breaking of the 4th wall’, with the actors talking directly to the audience, works well in the theatre but really doesn’t work well in this film. The dialogue they spout is so bland and obvious that there is no additional insight given.
I also find it rather curious that there wasn’t more effort to tidy up the film’s language a bit to meet a 12 certificate (it is showing with a UK 15 certificate). There is nothing in the sex and violence area to really merit a 15 and whilst the language is no worse that you *would* hear these days in a junior school playground, a bit of judicious “flip” editing would have been all that would have been required to have made it much more accessible as a rounded family film and/or appeal to a broader ‘grey-dollar’ audience, which was the main demographic of the audience I shared this with.
Above all, the biggest disappointment for me in the film was the staging of the musical numbers. If you go to see this show at the theatre – which I have – you see the 7 or 8 piece orchestra in the pit and think to yourself ‘they make a really good sound, given there are so few of them’. But my expectations of a cinema score are much higher, and with Jersey Boys, from the get-go with the opening titles, the orchestration of the music is highly underwhelming. It sounds like they have brought the same 8 session players into the recording studio and said “same again lads”. The music sounds weak, tinny and under-powered. (Compare that with the full orchestral might of the opening titles of Les Mis where you immediately thought “My God – this is going to be good”. ) Nowhere is this more evident for me than in the staging of the classic “Can’t Take My Eyes off You” – surely one of the greatest of Gaudio’s masterpieces of songwriting (co-penned with Bob Crewe) ever put on paper. Granted, it is supposed to be set in a club with a club style of band, but the music just sounds awful – brash and cheap. By all means show the club band, but play us the LSO backing track!
Unconvincing ‘old men’ makeup and a similarly unconvincing and joyless ‘megamix’ dance scene rounded off what was a rather dull, unconvincing and disappointing film for me.
Fad Rating: FFf.