I love “Jersey Boys” the musical. I’ve seen it in San Francisco, Las Vegas (twice) and Portland, OR. And I would see it again. And again. I would take my parents, my wife, my in-laws, you name it. For my money, this is the Broadway musical that will always stand above the rest. It does a wonderful job weaving the songs into the story in a way the exhibits no flaws, and its emotional reach is essentially second to none.
Alas, this review isn’t all about “Jersey Boys” the stage production, but rather “Jersey Boys” the film, directed by Clint Eastwood and landing on Blu-ray disc from Warner Bros. very soon. I didn’t get a chance to see “Jersey Boys” on the big screen, partly because I knew Warner Bros. would be sending a copy my way and partly because I wasn’t convinced it would meet my expectations set by the very top tier Broadway production.
I hate being right all the time.
“Jersey Boys” is not a bad film, but it isn’t nearly as good as the stage production. It made less than a $22 million profit at the box office, and somehow, despite having a truly accomplished director and a cast that has ties to the stage production’s early days, the film doesn’t hold a candle to the version that really started it all. Things feel jumbled as the characters transition from nothing to stardom, the lead role feels forced and perhaps worst of all, I think “Jersey Boys” suffers from not being able to decide whether or not it is a drama, musical, biopic or some hybrid of everything under the sun.
Truth be told, stories like “Jersey Boys” are probably about the music more so than anything else. And that music, that sound that Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons are bound to be forever known for, is awfully good here. If it weren’t, then Eastwood and his band of dedicated film gurus would have really hit rock bottom. All the songs you know and love about this era find their way into “Jersey Boys,” and we get to live vicariously through this group of four nobodies as they ascend the ladder and make something out of nothing.
Things begin with Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) introducing himself in 1951 as the cornerstone to a musical group named the Variety Trio, which features his brother Nicky (Johnny Cannizarro) and fellow neighborhood character Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda). Tommy explains that he’s found his ticket out of Jersey in Frankie (John Lloyd Young), and after a few small run-ins with local law enforcement, he brings Frankie in as lead singer. We also meet gangster Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken), who has ties to virtually every sector of the organized crime world but is brought to tears when Frankie sings “My Mother’s Eyes.”
Things get pretty serious when Nicky is hauled away to jail and the group, now named The Four Lovers, needs another member. Tommy’s friend Joe Pesci (Joey Russo) introduces him and the group to Bob Gaudio (Eric Bergen), a local talent best known for the popular hit “Short Shorts.” He hesitates initially after butting heads with Tommy, but agrees to join up after he hears Frankie sing one of his newer songs.
It takes a little while, but this is where “Jersey Boys” picks up steam. Producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle) signs the group for backup support, but records “Sherry” as a favor and it takes off. Quickly followed by “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man,” The Four Seasons have officially made it. But when Tommy’s excessive money spending habits and Frankie’s problems with his wife become elephants in the room that outgrow their place, things start to unravel. “Jersey Boys” splits its final half between personal and stage worlds for The Four Seasons, and we get to go along for the ride.
Eastwood has all the right elements to make this work darn near flawlessly, but he cannot connect the dots for whatever the reason. “Jersey Boys” the film spends more time than “Jersey Boys” the theatrical production on the little antics Tommy gets everyone wrapped up in and on Frankie’s turbulent marriage and love affair, as well as his minimal efforts to be a good father. These are all important in establishing characters and depth, but when they take away from the film’s principle story and efforts to illustrate the rise and fall of The Four Seasons, you have to wonder if they needed to take up as much run time as they did.
Are we watching a drama? A comedy? A biopic? Your guess might be as good as anyone else’s. I thought “Jersey Boys” was a musical at its core, but it doesn’t feel like it in the traditional sense, and while this is not its downfall, the inability of the same two persons behind the book that led to the musical (Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice) to get this key component wrong is damaging to the overall film watching experience. There are so many things all happening on screen that we’re jumping around more than we probably need to, and we get curious as to where that constant movement is going to land us when the film’s 134 minutes have elapsed.
The characters are just as colorful as I remember them, but they are far less refined. John Lloyd Young overacts in “Jersey Boys,” almost as though Eastwood gave him a “Million Dollar Baby” like pep talk that went bad rather than good. He’s too extreme in his confusion or seriousness, and he loses credibility despite being able to hit the Valli-esque high notes with the greatest of ease. Lomenda and Piazza are forgettable at the end of the film, but not because they gave bad performances. They just gave unfinished efforts that resulted in a misguided outcome thanks to one too many sidebars getting in the way. Bergen is probably the strongest of the group, with great energy and wit that were both critical to the initial success The Four Seasons had many years back. He’s familiar with the role from the stage show, and demonstrates poise and patience with his character better than everyone else.
For what it’s worth, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” does get a full run through during “Jersey Boys,” and other than “Sherry,” it’s the only song in the film to have this much face time. Lloyd Young is able to take rabid fans back to a happy place where the music stood out above all else in your youth, evidenced by the legions of fans who pack the venues where “Jersey Boys” spends a lot of its time.
I wanted “Jersey Boys” to blow my socks off, but sadly, it feels unfinished, underwhelming and unapologetic for both. Eastwood didn’t knock this one out of the park, or strike out swinging. I’ll say he popped up into foul ground for about 25 swings before he realized it just wasn’t worth it and quit, which is essentially what I felt as “Jersey Boys” concluded.
It looks great in the 1080p High Definition 2.40:1 video transfer that pumps up the gentle grey and darker undertones while helping the bright sport jackets and stage lights pop from the television’s screen. Film grain is hardly an issue as “Jersey Boys” does its thing, and we get to see fantastic detail in the visuals throughout that truly brings everything together for your eyes to take in, from the costumes to the sets to the cars and the dressing rooms. Visually, “Jersey Boys” wins, and it isn’t even close.
The music in the film comes through without any issues thanks to the English 5.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio soundtrack. There are moments where natural background noise is less audible than others, but c’mon, in a musical? It’s all about the songs, people. And they do come through with great ease, emotion and energy all the way from the covers the group sings to begin with to “Who Loves You” at the film’s conclusion. Most of the spoken dialogue is easy to hear and doesn’t require substantial setting adjustments, but there are moments where this is more or less true than others. Additional audio options include French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1s, plus a set of subtitles in English, French and Spanish.
The Blu-ray disc comes with standard definition DVD and digital copies, plus several featurettes that illustrate the theater production’s journey into national phenomenon as well as Eastwood’s efforts to help it transition to the big screen.
A Final Word:
I wanted to love “Jersey Boys” the film as much as I loved “Jersey Boys” the stage show. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. If you never get to see “Jersey Boys” on stage, Eastwood’s version will work. But when you compare the two, you notice where things are more and less refined. It’s not awful, mind you. But it could have been so much better.