Director Clint Eastwood has to work with one of the most popular stage musicals in a long time and really has no vision for bringing it to the big screen. I love Frank Valli and his music, and on film his work is still stunning. But “Jersey Boys” is only a mediocre adaptation of the stage musical. Eastwood doesn’t seem to want to give the movie a wider scale at any point, and then in the closing credits just tacks on a final number that recreates the musical. For all intents and purposes, “Jersey Boys” gives Frankie Valli a much deserved nod to his fans and legendary music, but director Clint Eastwood simply has no idea how to work it in to a dynamic biographical drama with its own unique flavor.
Most of “Jersey Boys” is a pretty generic and hum drum (albeit well acted) series of scenarios that lead us in to Frankie Valli becoming Frankie Valli. The long in the tooth film focuses a great deal on Valli’s youth, and how closely he came to becoming just another schmuck in his predominantly Italian stereotypical neighborhood. From there there’s not much emphases on Valli. Perhaps it’s just more interesting to see how his friends dragged him down, or perhaps Valli just didn’t have much in the way of scandal. But Valli feels almost like a side player in his own story. Even a moment involving a heartbreaking off screen death is completely skimmed over, as we never gain any specifics to the tragedy, and we don’t see Valli suffer much because, dagnabit, he has to create “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”!
For a movie that explains his mob connections and that he had to work off a massive debt to evade potential assassination from the mob, there’s little urgency placed, and Valli never gets much of a chance to stand in the spotlight and tell his story. Eastwood doesn’t so much unfold a narrative so much as he jumps from scene to scene like he’s filming the actual stage musical. Often times the progression of the plot just feel safely transitioned as if to keep the core audience from the musical invested. But the general audience may just feel completely left out of the proceedings. Even the revelation of one of the bigger players in the building of the “Four Seasons” being Joe Pesci is barely tapped, save for a few in jokes about Pesci’s future roles in iconic films. Those feel placed just to gauge the “Oh, that Joe Pesci!” reaction from viewers.
And even then Eastwood can never decide if it’s being played for comedy, or just a clunky reminder. The big epiphany to name the band the Four Seasons is also a goofy moment that’s never sure if it’s intentionally cheesy thus deserving of a laugh, or is so committed to the moment it can’t even realize how silly it is. The casting of Christopher Walken as a big time gangster is baffling, and even he can never seem to figure out if his character is in the film to provide levity or dramatic tension. When all is said and done the best elements of “Jersey Boys” are the committed performances and the excellent music. I just found myself enjoying the music more than the events taking place on-screen. And for younger audiences oblivious to who Franki Valli is, they just might come out of this with nothing but a chuckle at the horrible old man make up they cake the cast with in the finale.
“From Broadway to Big Screen” is a look at the creation and popularity if “Jersey Boys” and how it was translated to the big screen from the long running stage musical. “Oh What a Night to Remember” explores Clint Eastwood’s staging of the final musical number in the film that closes out the story, and how he filmed it as one piece.