Movie Review #948
|Nationwide release on June 20, 2014. Biography/Drama/Music. This film is rated R for language throughout. Runs 134 minutes. An American production. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Screenplay and musical book by Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice. Cast: Vincent Piazza, John Lloyd Young, Christopher Walken, Michael Lomenda, Renée Marino, Joseph Russo, Erich Bergen, Mike Doyle, Grace Kelley, Alexis Krause, Elizabeth Hunter, Troy Grant, and Freya Tingley.|
MY EYES DID NOT ADORE THIS ONE.
By Alexander Diminiano
Oh what a night. Late January, 2015, I sat down after a long, long day and figured, “Why not watch ‘Jersey Boys’?” I’d heard the mixed reception, and I was just trying to stay optimistic about the fact that this was Clint Eastwood directing a musical. “Jersey Boys” reaffirms that you can be optimistic about absolutely anything, though, and it doesn’t change the result. A more famous example of this useless optimism was once demonstrated by Germans who were sure they were going to win World War I.
I’d rather Clint Eastwood have made a movie about those Germans. He’s not really the kind of guy to be directing a musical. We should be worried this man. This, released last June, is the second possible indication of dementia for Eastwood in less than two years. (The first was his “invisible Obama” incident at the 2012 Republican National Convention.)
I can certainly understand liking this movie, though, if you’re unsure of what a musical looks and sounds like, or if you’ve never heard the music of the Four Seasons. Clint Eastwood has a fetish for biopics, so much that he’s turned a Tony-winning stage musical into a biopic about musicians. The title sequence is quite misleadingly set to an arrangement of “December 1963” that sounds exactly like an overture to a play, and from there on everything just sounds like pop music. The cast isn’t even convincing as the titular group. Three guys from New York City and one from Sacramento can imitate James Gandolfini and suddenly they’re from Jersey? I don’t think so. Ironically, the worst of them all is John Lloyd Young–the only of the four to have appeared in the original Broadway musical. Young bastardizes the great voice of Valli as an ugly, obnoxious caricature of Frankie Valli’s signature high-pitched voice. Young has turned a masterful voice into something utterly artless, possibly for unredeemed comedy, and she should feel ashamed. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons weren’t the Beatles, but they were incredible and talented. They don’t deserve Young’s mockery.
I’m sure the script was fine: it was written by the duo who wrote the Tony-winning Broadway musical Jersey Boys. One of these guys is Marshall Brickman, known also for co-writing “Annie Hall”. There’s quite a bit of clever dialogue here, and if anything keeps you watching, it’s that exactly. Maybe the movie could have been better if Eastwood actually knew what he was doing or where he was going with this movie. His handling of the movie is wishy-washy–as if he laid out a bunch of screenplays in front of him, closed his eyes, and put his finger on whichever it landed.
What really took me aback about this, though, was that I felt more that I was watching a mob movie than a musical. I think Christopher Walken was probably supposed to be some sort of mentor or producer for the group, but he actually seems a lot like a capo for some unseen underboss. You keep waiting for him to say something like, “Never rat on your friends and always keep ya mouth shut.” In other words, whenever I listen to the Four Seasons, I’m supposed to hear mob movie quotes arranged to music. That’s how Clint Eastwood sees it anyway. I’m trying to think of a Four Seasons song that matches up with such a line, but the technique, much like this movie, doesn’t work.