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Review: "Jersey Boys"

This review was originally published in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad


‘I’m looking for sky blue and you’re giving me brown,' a fey producer sighs when the Four Seasons are in the recording booth. They’re just going through the motions rather than livening up their material. He could just have easily been dissing Jersey Boys itself, Clint Eastwood’s needlessly dull adaptation of the Broadway smash. In truth the band’s performance in this scene isn’t appreciably worse than their performances elsewhere in the movie. If you can’t readily spot differences in inspiration and creative fire from one performance to the next, maybe there’s none to be found?

“Brown” isn’t quite the color of it, though. Clint Eastwood’s aesthetic favors underlit rooms, heavy blacks and washed out color. You’d think that aesthetic would change for a splashy musical but you’d be wrong. I mean, why shouldn’t a musical about a famous band with a gift for hooky pop gems look as depressing / dead-end as a drama about desperate boxers or a war film about an island massacre?

For the uninitiated, Jersey Boys is a jukebox musical that charts the formation, rise, and fall of the classic band The Four Seasons ending with their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I haven’t seen the stage musical but from my understanding of its structure, there doesn’t appear to have been much in the way of ‘adaptation’. The Broadway book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice also did the screenplay and they even keep the super theatrical device of the characters talking directly to the camera/audience. That’s a stage staple rarely used in film for the reason that it's terrible. The theater has a different contract with the audience, one that is about shared space and willful suspension of disbelief for storytelling time. Film is a far more realistic medium. That’s especially true when a director eschews the fantastical, as Eastwood does for almost the entire running time, treating this as a conservative biopic rather than a true musical.


Rather than populate the movie with name actors, Jersey Boys keeps the stage performers (from various productions). That’s a move I wish so much that I could applaud, especially since they do their own singing beautifully. Unfortunately most of them have nothing like true big screen presence (I believe this is what screen tests are for?) Erich Bergen is most promising among them as the straight laced songwriter Bob Gaudio. John Lloyd Young is the biggest problem in the leading role despite his impressive pipes. He’s nearing 40 and less believable as a teenager (in the film’s first scenes) than any middle aged high schooler since Stockard Channing in Grease.

Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) is talking to you. Yes, you. Directly to you.

It doesn’t help Young or the other players that the washed out color palette often makes them look undead, as if their blood has been drained away before each scene. Was the key grip named Vlad?

It's not supposed to be a horror movie even if it is a horror.

Jersey Boys is so low on entertainment value and so short on color that you notice it every time it pops up — "ooh, an orange sign,” “yay, red jackets!”.  Figurative color comes with about the same frequency and always feels like an oasis in the desert. The movie has hundreds of wide-eyed reaction shots from extras and principals alike, that are variations on “wow can this boy saaaang!” awe. Christopher Walken, a joy as the gangster Gyp DeCarlo, is the only one that wins intentional laughs performing these. But Walken isn't in much of the movie and his dancing skills aren't even utilized.

a once vibrant woman becomes the neglected nagging wifeThe other early blast of acting color comes from Renée Marino as Frankie’s future wife Mary. She’s a riot in her first big scene, a date with Frankie in which she totally takes charge. But then that actress disappears, replaced by her lifeless twin, blood drained from every subsequent scene once she’s been reduced to the stock character of Nagging Wife. My desperation for amusement became so great that I not only forgave but actively embraced the gay minstrel flamboyance of Mike Doyle as the producer Bob Crewe. I was all ‘get jt gurl’ every time he appeared when I might normally be cringing.

In the end, Jersey Boys is little more than a feature version of an episode of Behind the Music. Weirdly, it even botches the simple stuff like a sad funeral scene with rough draft acting, awkward musical cues, and clumsy camera movement. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, the film jumps ahead to 1990 and Eastwood trots out the old age makeup on his thirtysomething castmembers. Again? So soon after the prosthetic mummy horrors of J. Edgar? You can’t say Eastwood isn’t stubbornly committed to doing things the way he does them.

Ah well, there’s always the music. The catchy glory of the familiar songs help. The corny bombast of Franki Valli’s late-career hit “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” is undeniably pleasurable and a highlight. But no one will ever sing its hyper rousing 'I-iii love you, ba-aaa-by!' chorus to this movie.

Grade: D
Oscar Chances: Oh, god I hope not. I think we're safe this time... though if it's an unexpected hit I suppose there's an extreme longshot possibility for Christopher Walken who steals his scenes.


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Reader Comments (14)

This would make a great contender for "Hit Me With Your Worst Shot." I'm thinking the downtrodden Young at his daughter's tombstone, looking like a middle schooler who was punished for failing a math quiz, as the camera swoops down under his nose in ugly sepia tones. Or maybe each individual shot of the wax-figure cast statues after the last (and only) dance number? Or maybe the Disney version of 1950's New Jersey's cartoonish storefronts during a goofy robbery? So much to consider...

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

Agree with everything you said. Haven't been so bored by a movie this year. And I actually was cringing every time Doyle appeared on screen. Such a bad, almost offensive stereotype.

For me, the worst (and oddest) scene in the film is when Frankie's daughter has died and there's this awkward crane shot at the cemetery where John Lloyd Young is sitting on the bench and he has to look distraught. Absolutely cringe-inducing acting, but the blocking of the entire production is so awkward that no one comes out safe.

June 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJordan

I can't remember ever watching a movie this boring. I agree with everything you said, it was just so bad.

I love Christopher Walken, but every time he appeared it was like "oh look, a movie star just showed up in these people's lives!". I don't think you can make a movie with all unknowns and then add Christopher Walken, it just didn't work for me (as much as I love CW).

I saw it last night and I'm still angry, I can't believe I lost two hours of my life to this.

June 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

This is sad :-( I saw the stage show for the first time this week in London. I was 3 rows from the front in the stalls and it absolutely BLEW ME AWAY! I may have to avoid the film as I don't want to spoil my Jersey Boys high. I'll get the original cast soundtrack instead

June 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChrisD

I feel like 'needlessly dull' kind of sums up the majority of Eastwood's output in recent memory. How Million Dollar Baby and Mystic River caught fire escapes me.

June 22, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterchoog

I agree 100% The only Oscar chance I can see (and it's a long one) is Sound Mixing.

My girlfriend, who is Italian, got very mad when, during an early scene at Frankie's house, Frankie is drinking milk with his dinner.

I think Mr. Eastwood should just stop. Rest on his laurels.

June 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Gouveia

I an glad I never had a desire to see this, which, according to you all, shouldn't even been a Red Box pick on a rainy day. I truly don't understand who thought Eastwood's directing style would be a good fit for, of all things, a musical. He barely makes the things at which he's perceived to be good palatable enough for me. I feel like this is something Spike Lee could have possibly done well, at least on paper.

June 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

@John Just saw we posted about the same shot. Ha! Glad I wasn't the only one who was beside myself with disbelief at how awful it turned out.

June 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJordan

Jordan & John -- that's exactly the shot/scene i was referring to in the review in regards to the funeral

June 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Hahaha, very entertaining review!

What attracted Clint to this project? I mean, we know he's a "musician" but it's so unlike the rest of his oeuvre...

June 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

As someone who was dragged kicking and screaming to the musical last year (Happy Anniversary, Grandparents!) and had an absolute blast, I was especially disappointed with this film. It oddly keeps the musical's main conceit of the different band members narrating different parts of the story, but drops everything else: In the stage show, the music almost never stops and the whole thing has the most tremendous energy from curtain up to final bows - it's the definition of infectious. But the film is completely lifeless, and has almost no music, not even underscoring, for nearly the entire first act! It's a musical that is deathly afraid of being a musical, and that's a crime. In addition to that, it's boring as all hell. There's no joy to be found anywhere, and in a film about pop music, that's a mortal sin.

And as if that weren't enough, the brass section playing during the big performance of "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" was horribly, almost laughably, off, unforgivably ruining a great song.

June 22, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

denny - I'm glad you said that about the musical because my reaction after seeing the movie was "I will never in my life watch that musical after this". I don't think the movie is a musical, it's a biopic about singers, which happened to have a couple of musical numbers in it.

Heath Ledger's "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" from 10 Things I Hate About You was infinitely superior.

June 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

This was a musical in the way that "Ray" and "Walk the Line" were "musicals." Really unfortunate that Clint virtually sucked the life out of this razzle-dazzle jukebox musical and turned it into a dour drama where they sang sometimes. And then that ending? IF the film had that energy and spirit the whole way instead of inexplicibly during the credits, the film would have been far more successful than this. Another Eastwood dud.

June 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterIan

The ending.... *shudder*. Those stupid closing monologues with that god-awful makeup were the worse close-ups until those even stupider close-ups from just below of the main characters in freeze frame during the closing credits. And people thought Hooper's close-ups in Les Mis were bad....

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan A

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