As the credits rolled on Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of the hit Broadway show, “Jersey Boys,” I couldn’t do anything, but laugh. I’d like to be able to tell you that the theater was empty, so no one saw this ridiculous reaction, but I would be lying. Seriously, the rest of the crowd probably thought we’d lost our minds, but Zer, myself, and our fellow theater dork friend just laughed until we cried, thanked our lucky stars that it was a discount ticket night at the movies, and headed home.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the beginning:
I normally save the trailer for the end, but I’m feeling especially inspired this week. Inspired by my love for “Jersey Boys,” I’m mixing things up a bit and making this a multimedia experience. So, before you continue, make sure you have a good 10 or 15 minutes to commit to this (it’s a thorough analysis) and watch the trailer.
To me, this trailer is proof that someone on this project, knew what had been done right, and that leaves me with one question: Why didn’t they tell Mr. Eastwood?
I acknowledge the difficulty of the task of bringing this show to the big screen, but regardless of the level of difficulty, it should have started with one choice: Do you present it as a straightforward biopic, or keep the stylized format of the stage show?
That decision seems to have been skipped, and the result is a disjointed, confusing jumble that’s almost word for word the stage show. That’s where the similarities die.
Our story starts in a practically sepia-toned Jersey with the man who started it all (just ask him) Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), talking directly to the camera. This sharp-tongued, free-wheeling mobster wannabe is our first guide in the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
I assume the muted colors were meant to be reminiscent of classic films with Jersey settings, but they didn’t so much inspire nostalgic thoughts of gangster flicks of yesteryear, as they did remind me of a made for TV movie from the 80s.
On a positive note, despite the lack of context given for Tommy’s direct address, I appreciate that it was kept in. For those who haven’t seen the show, I’ll do you a favor and give you the context: On stage, the story starts in (relatively) modern day with Tommy acting as an omniscient narrator looking back. He makes it very clear that this telling of the birth of the Four Seasons is entirely subjective. As we move through the story, the other three of the Four Seasons start to add their two cents.
The omission of the first half of Tommy’s opening monologue makes it feel a little weird when we jump straight into a moment in history (the 50’s), yet no mention is ever made of anything else that happened during the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s. There’s no solid historical reference, aside from a completely unnecessary snippet of a Clint Eastwood movie. It feels like lazy editing, but I seriously wonder whether or not the first half of Tommy’s opening monologue was even filmed. Vincent Piazza does a great job with this role, making the most of its serious downgrade from the stage version of Tommy.
There’s a sense of laziness about many of the odd choices made throughout this movie. For instance, on stage, the role of Frankie (John Lloyd Young) is played by one actor, from the age of 16 in 1950 right up until the Four Seasons’ induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. You can do that on stage, it works. You can’t do that on film, unless you cast a very young actor with some incredible chops for playing older and one hell of a makeup artist.
Alternatively, had they (and by they, I mean Mr. Eastwood) committed to the stylized format of the stage show, they could have made it work with one actor.
Sorry, Mr. Young, but your days of convincingly playing 16 in front of a camera are behind you. I cannot wrap my mind around why another actor wasn’t cast as younger Frankie.
While I’m on the subject of cast members, I will say this. They are all excellent. Erich Bergen as the incredibly talented Bob Gaudio—amazing; Michael Lomenda kills Nick Massi’s show-stopping freak out scene; Christopher Walken was born to play the role of Gyp DeCarlo. It’s one amazing performance after another. They’re all great.
I do wonder about the choice to cast so many (relatively) unknowns, but putting A-listers in this movie wouldn’t have made it any better. Nothing that is horrible about this movie has anything to do with the performances.
Not enough thought was put into how to make these memories (because that’s what they are), that are so intimate and beautiful on the stage, be just as touching on the big screen. For some moments, not enough was changed; for others it was too much.
Basically, the plot of “Jersey Boys,” is a series of reveals, essentially saying, “Bet you didn’t realize you knew so many of these songs already.” At least that’s the case for those of us who went into the show less than well versed in the Four Seasons’ song catalog.
The first big moment for the Four Seasons, is the discovery of their first hit, “Sherry.” On stage it’s teased and hinted at, but we don’t hear it sung until they’re belting it out on Ed Sullivan. Revealing it, as it’s done in the film, through a half-sung over the phone rendition kills the magic of the moment.
To be fair, there are moments that were adapted beautifully. The reveal of “Big Girls Don’t Cry” does exactly what it should and “Walk Like a Man” also made the transition relatively unscathed.
Then there was the ultimate tease of the show. It’s a song we all know, but we don’t necessarily know it’s Frankie Valli. I won’t tell you what it is, I’ve spoiled enough for you already, but I will tell you that the reveal on stage is absolutely magical. Goosebumps, tears, the whole shebang. It’s wonderful. The best way I can describe the scene on screen is claustrophobic. The worst way is rushed and lazy. It’s in a small space, the audio on the horns is off, and it doesn’t come anywhere close to the bringing the house down experience that it is live.
That was hard to swallow, but the scene that absolutely broke my heart, for all of the wrong reasons, was the death of Frankie’s youngest daughter, Francine. On stage, the moment sucks the air out of the theater. A weeping, grief-stricken Frankie softly sings “Fallen Angel.” There is not a dry eye in the house.
The film version, not so much. It’s set up beautifully, the first time we see Francine as a tyke at the top of the stairs, eager to see her famous daddy returning home, we hear just the hint of “Fallen Angel” and your heart drops. Frankie then serenades the small child with a snippet of “My Eyes Adored You,” and we all melt. Fast forward to Frankie receiving the call from the hospital, and you are just ready to ugly cry, then the soundtrack kicks in with a slightly too loud Original Broadway Cast recording of “My Eyes Adored You,” and the moment is ruined.
The fact that a film version of the song wasn’t even recorded is a wonderful quick factoid to sum up the lazy choices made in this movie. The fact that “Fallen Angel” was cut, is something I can’t even begin to talk about. I can rationalize it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
Eventually, the final moments of the movie arrive and something wonderfully awful happens, we get a glorious glimpse at what “Jersey Boys” the movie could have been. It’s glorious. The muted tones turn Technicolor and we finally see our four leads under that often mentioned, but yet to be seen, street lamp. The camera pulls out and they dance and sing across a wonderfully idealized Jersey street as all of the featured cast members make their curtain calls. For a few brief moments, it’s absolutely delightful, making the previous two plus hours that much harder to swallow.
Then, the awkward pause happens, a series of odd angled close-ups, and the last image we see is a from beneath close up (that’s code for practically up the nose) of Bob Crewe, because isn’t he the real star of this show? (…no, he isn’t). That brings us back to where we started—laughter.
I laughed to keep from weeping for all of the mind-blowing mistakes made in this film. Had I wept, I would have wept for those who will only ever know this version of the story, and for the Jon Favreau imagining that never came to be (true story). Would it have been any better? I like to think so, but we’ll never know.
In the show, Tommy has a line that now lives on the movie poster, “Everybody remembers it how they need to.” It’s a wonderful line, it’s in the movie as well, but the depth of the statement is lost because the premise of the telling of the story isn’t correctly set up at the onset of our tale. Nevertheless, I plan on using the advice to come to terms with this film. I will remember it exactly how I need to.
Get the kleenex now: