Sunday, July 20, 2014

Review: Jersey Boys (2014)

Jersey Boys (2014)

While I can't speak for the Broadway show it was adapted from, I can say that the film adaptation of Jersey Boys is, for the most part, a failure of a musical. While the music itself was done well, and the actors were all very good, when it wasn't focusing on the musical performances it felt like a feature-length episode of Behind the Music, a by-the-numbers musician biopic recounting the rise and struggles of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Director Clint Eastwood seemed to have fallen asleep behind the camera here, merely copying the Broadway show's staging (I went to see it with my aunt, who was a fan of the original stage show and picked up on that) without tweaking it to suit the new medium, and as is the case with many films adapted from the Great White Way, what worked wonderfully on stage translated into a slog on the silver screen. Eastwood has directed many great films in the past, in many genres, but unfortunately, if his handling of Jersey Boys is any indication, then musicals are clearly well past his comfort zone.

With the non-musical sections of the film so boring to watch and the performances so far between at times, the plot becomes a mess. Important characters like Frankie's lovers and children get nowhere near the development needed to make their roles in his life interesting or moving, especially if, like me, you're going in knowing little to nothing of the band's story. This is a problem that I've noticed is common with so-called "jukebox musicals", i.e. musicals based around pre-existing pop and rock hits from a particular band, genre, or era. When you're writing the story around the music, your choices tend to be limited to either biopics of the people who made the music, or simplistic, sappy love stories that you can work around romantic lyrics that were often never written about any one girl in particular (something that the film, in one of its few good non-musical moments, happily explains). These story problems tend to be less noticeable or pronounced on stage, where the entire point of the production is to hear concert performances of those songs with the story as a mere excuse to string them together. However, when you try to force such a musical into the confines of a more conventional film, you get the same problem that many lesser popcorn blockbusters face -- unless you're a truly excellent filmmaker, it's very difficult to cover for a dull, uninteresting story with great music or awesome explosions. And with this film unable to decide whether it wants to be a musical or a serious biopic, it turns into a muddle that had me checking my watch.

Really, the only saving grace that kept this film from being a total waste of my time was the music itself, and specifically the people singing it. With the music, it's hard to go wrong with the greatest hits of any legendary pop music group, and the Four Seasons put many subsequent boy bands to shame. John Lloyd Young reprised his role as Frankie Valli from the Broadway show, and he put on a hell of a show here both on stage and off. He was great as the neighborhood kid made good, torn between loyalty to his family and to his career. The rest of the cast was similarly energetic and game for the material; even though quite a few of this film's problems trace back to Eastwood's lackadaisical direction, his talent for finding good actors and getting great performances out of them did not slip. It's thanks to them that this film comes to life during the musical performances, its many other problems becoming much easier to ignore when you're watching those guys singing their hearts out. There weren't nearly enough musical moments to redeem this film, especially in the overly long second half where the film often goes more than half an hour without any singing, but when they were there, they brought a smile to my face.

Score: 2 out of 5

The music and the cast are good, but that's all there is redeeming this. If you're interested in the Four Seasons, you'd be better served by buying their greatest hits or seeing the Broadway show, anything other than watching this dull, boring, meandering movie.

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