Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Review - Jersey Boys

When I first saw a touring company production of the Tony-winning Broadway smash Jersey Boys several years ago, my first reaction was, “this show would make a great movie!” I know that's an odd plaudit to bestow upon a piece of live theatre, especially a jukebox musical that follows the tired old showbiz & stardom narrative of rise-then-fall-then-rise-again, but there was something about this play's fluid pageantry and explosive musicality that just sparkled with cinematic potential. Naturally, my thoughts went to playing armchair producer as I imagined all the dynamic filmmakers I'd love to see run with this material (Martin Scorsese, Baz Luhrmann, and Bill Condon are just a few that came to mind).
But probably the last name I'd have considered to fill the director's chair on this project was Clint Eastwood. The American journeyman's staid formalism didn't seem like it would jive with the infectious rhythms of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons' bustling pop-rock hits, let alone the almost caricatured energy of the stage show's characters. So it's understandable that I was nervously intrigued when it came to light that The Man With No Name himself would be producing and directing the film adaption.

Turns out, I was right to be nervous. Rather than a splashy, funny, toe-tapping collage of musical pastiche that made the play such a success, Clint Eastwood's take on Jersey Boys is a drab, uneven, paint-by-numbers biopic that confirms every dreadful worry I had about him being an ill fit for this material. But to be perfectly fair, the problems don't start with him.

The problems start with the show's own playwrights, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who have taken on screenwriting duties to shape their snappy stage book for the screen. Unfortunately, the extent of their adaptation seems to have been cramming major plot points closer together for the sake of brevity, while doing little to alter the play's dramatic devices to fit a new medium. Much of the original dialogue is retained, as is the expository gimmick of having various characters break the fourth wall to explain backstory and details to the audience.

This is not a good thing.

Even the funniest lines from the show only work when played broadly to a packed house, but fall flat when nonchalantly uttered onscreen. And the constant stare-into-the-camera narrations from multiple actors inadvertently take us out of the story more than they open it up to us. Consequently, the film feels stagey – even more stagey than the stage show itself!
But even a carefully adjusted screenplay would have been wasted under Eastwood's bland filmmaking form. The desaturated photography and dim design elements might work for some of his austere period dramas like Changeling or J. Edgar, but aren't exactly visually conducive to the pep and humour that this script is supposed to have (I had to check and make sure I wasn't accidentally wearing sunglasses in the movie theatre!). The musical sequences – which number far fewer than in the play – are monotonously cut, and don't even get me started on the gaudy, ill-advised end credit dance sequence!

If Eastwood can be (theoretically) congratulated for one decision, it might be giving some of the show's actors a chance to reprise their roles in the film; an opportunity few thespians get. But even that whim is only partially successful. However technically impressive John Lloyd Young (the original star on Broadway) is at impersonating Frankie Valli's angelic falsetto, he lacks a certain screen charisma. The same can be said of other players, who are either acting with too much affectation or not enough. The only cast member who consistently delights is Christopher Walken as a patriarchal mafia kingpin with a soft spot for “My Mother's Eyes”.

*1/2 out of ****

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, doesn't look that interesting to me. I think I'll just see the stage version, thank you very much. At least this looks at least mildly better than that tripe Transformers: Age of Extinction. Ugh.

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