Pros: Superb music performances.
Cons: Overly familiar and emotionally inert
Jersey Boys is a movie one wants to like better than they actually do. The 2014 cinematic adaptation of the long running Broadway play offers up a look at the career of the Four Seasons. The play was a musical complete with singing and dancing numbers. This interpretation is a drama with music. The one traditional musical number is saved until the closing credits.
The music contained in the film is superb. The Four Seasons music, while more dated than that of many of their contemporaries, still sounds good. But it doesn’t have the same cross-generational appeal as that of contemporaries like the Beatles or Stones.
Unfortunately, especially for those who have seen a lot of musical bio-pics, the story has a been there done that feel. Certain elements recall Goodfellas, certain ones bring to mind Dreamgirls and still others evoke The Fighter.
When it was announced that a movie version of Jersey Boys was on the way and that Clint Eastwood would be directing, people wondered whether or not he was the best choice. Eastwood is a great director. But his economical approach to filmmaking would not appear to mesh that well with what a musical calls for. Having seen Jersey Boys twice bears out that suspicion.
Of course that approach explains why this movie version is less a musical than a drama with music. To really get the essence of Jersey Boys on screen, a different director was needed. Bob Fosse would’ve been the best choice. But he’s long gone. So maybe Bill Condon who scripted Chicago and wrote and directed the aforementioned adaptation of Dreamgirls. Or Paul Thomas Anderson whose Boogie Nights crackled and popped with a rhythmic fever. Or the British Alan Parker whose work is often both gritty and lyrical.
The basic story follows the rise and fall of the Four Seasons. Of course, many of the elements are familiar from other musical bio-pics. If you’ve seen Ray or Walk The Line or The Buddy Holly Story or La Bamba or The Doors or Straight Outta Compton, you already have a fairly good idea of what to expect.
What makes Jersey Boys worth watching is the music. A number of Four Seasons songs are performed in their entirety by the cast and those are sunng superbly.
Eastwood for the most part used the same actors who’d appeared in the original Broadway version of Jersey Boys. While that approach backfired in the 2005 film version of Rent (by the time it went into production, those actors were too old to play people in their late teens/early twenties) it works here. You get some decent acting and some very good singing. Plus, the actors are able to slip into the characters more easily than if big name stars had been cast.
So there isn’t really a lot wrong with jersey Boys. It’s main flaw is the aforementioned “been there done that” feeling and the fact that it doesn’t have the musical feel a movie of this type should have. So it’s worth seeing for the good songs. But it isn’t the full-on masterpiece it so desperately wants to be.