Jersey Boys Misses the High Note That Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons Deserves.
Director: Clint Eastwood.
Writer: Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.
Cast: Christopher Walken, John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Vincent Piazza.
Studio: Warner Bros.
In Tom Hanks' That Thing You Do!, the audience is taken on a joyous journey alongside an ambitious boy band that starts out with nothing. It's exciting to watch along as those characters grow and progress with their music. There's drama, sure, but the focal point of the film is the group's success and the fun its members have while getting there. It also doesn't hurt that the film's catchy title song sneaks up on you in the best possible way.
But it's where That Thing You Do! gets all of these things right where Clint Eastwood's Jersey Boys so badly misses the mark. The fire Eastwood builds early on in what easily could have been a superb biopic about Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons sizzles out quickly in the third act. The hit songs come — and then they go. It's a noble attempt for Eastwood, who grew up during the heyday of the band. But this is one song-and-dance that should have stayed stuck in the jukebox.
Based on the hit musical of the same name, Jersey Boys starts in 1951 with a 16-year-old Frankie Valli (played by John Lloyd Young, who also starred as the famed singer on Broadway), who carries an energetic falsetto and wants to be as big as Frank Sinatra. No, wait, he wants to be bigger. But his dreams are stunted as his days are spent working at his pop's barbershop. Meanwhile, his best friend Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) splits his time between petty thievery and playing guitar in his own three-man band. And DeVito believes in his friend, certain that Valli has a voice that's bigger and better than Sinatra's — or any crooner out there, really — and brings Valli in as his band's lead singer. The rest of the film follows as you might expect: The band struggles with its initial attempts to get a hit onto the radio, and then deals with the difficulty of navigating the realities of that longed-for success.
Sound familiar? Of course it does.
It is, however, told a little differently. Jersey Boys is narrated by the members of The Four Seasons, who break the fourth wall by looking at the camera and addressing themselves directly to the audience. Think Ferris Bueller's Day Off without Broderick's charming, sarcastic wit.
Still, it allows some of the actors space to truly shine. Piazza's character isn't the frontman of the band, but his acting chops make his character the leader of the pack regardless. Tommy is shameless and uncouth — and Piazza heightens that with his confident and cool facade. Erich Bergen (also a Jersey Boys musical alumni), who plays Bob Gaudio, too stands out, while looking uncannily like Chris Klein (American Pie). But don't let Bergen's looks fool you: This guy has charisma, and he can pop out a line of dialogue with more enthusiasm than a 1960s teen at a Beatles concert.
Better than those performances, though, is Jersey Boys' set pieces. The whole film just has a great, nostalgic feel to it, especially as audiences are thrown back to the 1950s, when muscle cars first became prominent and elaborate clothing were en vogue. That feeling continues, too, when we're taken to the groovy '70s and house interiors turn cheap, ugly and wooded. (Why people ever thought this style was a nice touch to interior design, however, remains one of world's greatest mysteries.)
But it's also in these time leaps where things fall apart. The timeline is distracting; the boys' ages leap warp-speed ahead without any real warning, in turn muddling their transition from struggling artists to famed musicians.
Jersey Boys isn't an awful movie, no. And it will be a certainly be a hit among the baby boomer crowds. But it's just not commercially viable or very appealing to a younger audience. It lacks the thrill of biopics like Walk the Line, Ali and Ray — films that have collectively raised audience expectations for the genre sky-high. Screenwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice — who wrote the book that the musical was based upon — focus most of the running time on the behind-the-scenes melodrama that the band faced — the hardships, the fights, the jealousy, the deceit — rather than the pure excitement of the Four Seasons recording music and becoming the biggest thing going before The Beatles. These two guys know the material better than anyone, granted. But their one-note script strips Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons of the biopic that the band really deserves.