Friday, June 20, 2014

Clint Eastwood's JERSEY BOYS Has More Clichés Than It Does Classic Songs


Opening today at a multiplex near you...

JERSEY BOYS (Dir. Clint Eastwood, 2014)


Jake Kasdan's 2007 spoof WALK HARD was supposed to have killed off all those cheesy music biopic tropes, but, dammit, here there all are again in full force in Clint Eastwood's new Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons film, JERSEY BOYS, based on the hit Tony winning Broadway musical.

There's also that tale of how Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Bob Gaudio, and Nick Massi came together from humble beginnings to become one of the biggest selling bands of the 20th century is told to us by each of the quartet, one by one, directly to the camera, in a manner that recalls Scorsese (from GOODFELLAS to WOLF OF WALL STREET), just nowhere as stylish.

John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony for the part on Broadway, portrays front man Frankie Valli, a singer whose falsetto can make a mafioso cry. Christopher Walken is that friendly made man that cries when hearing Young sing, and is here to lend the film its only instance of big name star power.

Vincent Piazza (Boardwalk Empire) plays slick fast-talking lead guitarist Tommy DeVito, who gets the band in heavy debt to the mob, while the other members, Bob Gaudio, and Nick Massi (Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda, who played the roles on the original show's first national tour) barely register, even when it's their turns to narrate.

The screenplay by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (based on their Broadway book) does a poor job of putting the Four Seasons into the context of the times. The narrative starts in the mid-'50s, but by the time the band has a bunch of hits to its name, we're not sure when many scenes are supposed to take place. 

There's nothing to tell us that Valli's solo hit “Can't Take My Eyes Off You,” which they, of course, make a big production number out of, was recorded and released in 1967, the Summer of Love. No mention of the Beatles, or hippies, or Vietnam, or who the President was, or whatever.

The fashions simply go from Mad Men-era duds into '70s Disco-era threads, with no reference to anything else going in the world outside of the Four Seasons bubble.

The well stocked soundtrack, chocked full of the band's hit songs such as “Big Girls Don't Cry,” “Sherry,” and “Rag Doll” (very convincingly sung by Young) keep the film bopping along, but the overwhelming amount of clichés in this by-the-numbers biopic outnumbers even the wealth of classic tracks that are crammed into its bloated 134 minute running time.

And for a film that comes on like a modeled mixture of THAT THING YOU DO and GOODFELLAS, it sure has a clunky flow.

But beyond all the thick Italian-American accents, depictions of street crime, and fourth wall breakage, JERSEY BOYS has a legit connection to Scorsese's 1990 gangster classic. Joe Pesci was a friend to the guys, especially DeVito, and is played here by Joey Russo, who does a passable impersonation. They really didn't have to have him say “Funny, how?” as if to show us the origin of his classic scene in GOODFELLAS though. They really didn't.

This just calls attention to the fact that, try as he might, Eastwood just doesn't have the Scorsesean swagger needed to make this material anything special above the music biopic average. 

Eastwood's bland approach here - it's like he's never seen WALK THE LINE, RAY, THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY, COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER, LA BAMBA, GREAT BALLS OF FIRE!, THE DOORS, et al (Hell, it's like he's never even watched his own Charlie Parker biopic BIRD!) - just renders this into another TV movie that will be forever rerun on VH1 Classic.

Eastwood is far from one of my favorite directors, but he's shown a solid sense of storytelling in many of his directorial efforts. But JERSEY BOYS is a story that's been told so many times before that it would take something more inspired than just a close approximation of the music, and a rote run-through of the artists' rise and fall, to make it really sing.

Whether its the recycled chart toppers, or the regurgitated plot points, there's not a single original note that this mediocre musical plays.

More later...

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