Jersey Boys (Clint Eastwood, 2014)
Jersey Boys is one of Broadway’s greatest success stories. The jukebox musical opened on the Great White Way in 2005 and won four Tony Awards, including best musical and best actor in a musical (John Lloyd Young). Nine years later, it continues to play eight performances a week to packed audiences, making it currently the thirteenth longest running musical on Broadway. It has since toured around the world to critical acclaim, and now Clint Eastwood has brought the musical to the silver screen, with original Broadway cast member John Lloyd Young in the lead role.
Jersey Boys charts the rise and fall (and rise again) of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, whose big hits included ‘Walk Like a Man’, ‘Sherry’, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’, ‘December 1963 (Oh What a Night!)’, and Frankie’s ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ (which I can’t help but associate with the beautiful late Heath Ledger in the teen classic 10 Things I Hate About You). Although the music is a big component, there’s much more to Jersey Boys than that. Its title indicates its true focus – boys from Jersey sticking together through good times and bad. And though the Jersey schtick sometimes seems over-the-top (those accents!), it is likely pretty accurate.
There will no doubt be comparisons between the film and the stage musical and if you want to enjoy the film, you need to appreciate it as a film in its own right. Not surprisingly for Clint Eastwood, the film is aesthetically much bleaker. It is less energetic (and less shiny) than the show, but if you want to see more pizzazz then you should be seeing live theatre – it will ALWAYS win out on the energy scale, and a live orchestra will always improve the music. Nonetheless, the film does still have something new to offer, and obviously there is more flexibility in onscreen portrayals. Of course there are many similarities with the show – the dialogue remains almost identical, and each of the band members (with the exception of Frankie) take it in turns to narrate to the audience, ‘breaking the fourth wall’ of cinema. This was a somewhat unusual choice as I think it will only serve to further isolate those viewers who are averse to musicals, which might undo all of the work the musical has done to fight that ‘stagey’ stereotype. There is no random breaking out into song (until the final credits at least), so in a sense it’s not even a movie musical at all. I have to admit I was very disappointed that in the film they no longer break into ‘December 1963 (Oh What a Night!)’ after Bob Gaudio loses his virginity. THAT’S ONE OF THE BEST PARTS!
If I were to nit-pick I would also complain that they cut out ‘Beggin’’ and ‘C’mon Marianne’, and shortened ‘Who Loves You’ which is my absolute favourite part of the whole thing. I was worried ‘December 1963’ wouldn’t be included at all but thankfully it makes a joyous appearance elsewhere. I was also worried about Eastwood’s decision to have the cast sing live (it really lessened the Les Mis movie) but it worked surprisingly well – probably because they actually got professional singers this time around. Still, a studio recording may have upped the energy levels which some diehards found lacking.
People who don’t know anything about anything might complain that there are no big names in the primary cast. Well give me a Broadway cast over an A-list non-singing cast any day (when they’re required to sing, obviously). All four band members are perfectly cast. John Lloyd Young reprises his Tony award winning role as Frankie Valli and he is sublime. Erich Bergen has previously played the role of Bob Gaudio in the US National Tour, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas productions of Jersey Boys and is a stunner (very Chris Klein-esque) with a voice to match. Michael Lomenda is hilarious as Nick Massi, having played the role in Toronto and across America. Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito brings his film background to the table in the most actor-y role. He is the only non-singer (and hasn’t played the part until now) but I’ll allow it because Tommy barely sings. Christopher Walken is the only name in the cast, playing mob boss, Gyp DeCarlo, and he shows he’s still got it. Mike Doyle and Joseph Russo provide some comic relief as Bob Crewe and Joe Pesci, respectively. The only cast member who I was on the fence with was Renée Marino as Frankie’s wife, Mary. Having played the part on Broadway she was a bit too theatrical here (I can see that she would have been great on stage), but then maybe that’s just the Jersey way.
I really hope this finds an audience but I fear that in an effort to appeal to everyone, Eastwood has made a film that won’t completely satisfy anyone. Fans of the musical may be disappointed in the lack of energy relative to the stage production, while non-theatre lovers will still be put off by the stagey nature of some elements. Are his efforts admirable or has he stuffed it up? Should movie musicals aim to please the genre’s most devoted fans, even if they’re in the minority of the overall cinema-going public? Please make the right choice, future filmmakers of Wicked… And if you cast Harry Styles as Fiyero I will hunt you down.