So you’re planning on checking out Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of Jersey Boys. And why wouldn’t you? The smash-hit musical has been a Broadway staple since 2005, touring theaters from London to Las Vegas and claiming four Tony Awards – including Best Musical – in 2006. Interest in Jersey Boys, particularly from the theater crowd, should be high. Do this instead. Stay home. Light a candle -- preferably a beige or dishwater-grey candle – and watch it slowly melt for several hours. Play Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons records in the background to set the mood. This experience will be far more exciting than actually suffering through Eastwood’s disappointingly flavorless and lackluster on-screen Jersey Boys pass.
Not that Eastwood has made a bad film. Rarely, over the course of his 50-plus years in the director’s chair, has Eastwood delivered an unquestionable bomb. But he has made a dull film, and that betrays the doo-wop energies and disgruntled behind-the-scenes dramas that helped make Jersey Boys such a beloved story for countless theater audiences.
The Jersey Boys, in question, are the members of The Four Seasons, whom Eastwood recreates using cinematic newcomers: lead singer Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young); troubled guitarist Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza); dependable vocalist and bass player Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda); and gifted songwriter and pianist Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), whose late addition proved to be the final piece to the group’s successful puzzle. The Four Seasons topped the charts in the 1960s and ‘70s with ear-catching tunes like “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man.” Jersey Boys charts their formative years, their meteoric rise, and the factors that brought most of the members back down to Earth.
Having seen both the Broadway show and this silver-screen adaptation, I have no clue who thought Eastwood was the right director to tell this story. Born and raised in Northern California, Eastwood has no natural connection to the thick-as-thieves Garden State neighborhoods that birthed Frankie Valli. As such, his requisite New Jersey flourishes fall under the category of broad, regional stereotypes that went out of fashion when The Sopranos ended. (What I wouldn’t give to see Marty Scorsese’s Jersey Boys.) As Eastwood also points out in a blink-and-you-missed-it visual gag, the star already was busy with his own acting career when The Four Seasons were making their mark – and while he might have been a fan of the Four Seasons’ songs, he doesn’t spend much time celebrating the impact of their music.
Casting John Lloyd Young makes complete sense on paper, as he took home the Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical for playing Valli on stage in 2006. The brilliant singer hits all of Valli’s impossible notes, but falters in smaller, dramatic scenes when he has to sell emotional moments with Valli’s wife, his daughter, or the feuding members of his band. As he does in the stage show, Tommy DeVito (and his various demons) becomes the focal point of Jersey Boys, and Piazza has enough of an edge to slice through Eastwood’s patented melodrama.
Do you know how musicals usually sizzle and pop, though? Jersey Boys never does. Never even attempts to. Eastwood’s color palette – conceived with longtime cinematographer Tom Stern (Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven) – displays that usual, washed out look the director favors. As is usually the case in an Eastwood movie, scenes linger on longer than necessary. The direction is competent, but has so little creativity that when Eastwood finally tries something out of the ordinary – a camera shot that scales the side of a skyscraper and gives us a peek inside various audition rooms – the irregularity briefly shook me out of the mundane coma Jersey Boys had lulled me into.
Eastwood, more than anything, isn’t interested in remaking Jersey Boys, the musical. His film plays the story of the Four Seasons on a far more straight and literal line than the stage show, and doesn’t build to theatrical transitions or show-stopping musical numbers. The only time Jersey Boys resembles a show that started in stage is in the end credits, when the cast reunites on a sound-stagey neighborhood “street” for an up-tempo montage of he musical’s hits. Yet even at the very end, Eastwood freezes his cast in awkward poses before fading to black, leaving them looking like curious wax figures waiting to melt. And we’ve come full circle.