Movie review: “Jersey Boys” relies on hits (and misses)

By
From the June 19, 2014 edition

Quick, name a director who should helm the big-screen adaptation of a beloved, Tony-Award-winning musical! Did you say, “Clint Eastwood”? Of course you didn’t!

And yet that’s exactly what happened with “Jersey Boys,” but don’t let the bizarre choice of director sway you from seeing it. Let the fact that it is awful do that.

“Jersey Boys” tells the story of the wrong-side-of-the-tracks boys from, um, New Jersey who went on to become The Four Seasons. Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), who serves as our first narrator, is a musician with budding mob ties who finds gold in his golden-voiced friend Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young).

The rise-and-fall tale will feel familiar to anyone who knows the story of the Four Seasons, who knows the musical “Jersey Boys” or has seen a single episode of VH1’s “Behind the Music.”

If there’s a reason Eastwood is a good fit to direct “Jersey Boys,” it’s probably because he’s 84 years old. The movie relies heavily on the Baby Boomer nostalgia of hearing those Four Season classics — a nostalgia that is stoked by how much of a Valli sound-alike John Lloyd Young is. There’s a reason they retained the original Broadway lead for the movie.

In between a liberal sprinkling of those obnoxious “a-ha!” moments these biopics have — was the band seriously named after a bowling alley? — we get a watered-down mob story with a Jersey accent. It’s like “Goodfellas” meets “Dreamgirls” (“Dreamfellas”? “Goodgirls”?), only not even as good as that sounds.

Actors tend to emote with the sort of flair that works on stage. On screen, we call that “overacting.” And the standard pitfalls of a mediocre biopic are present. In one scene, Valli suddenly has three daughters, and we are suddenly supposed to feel sad about the breakup of a family we were never introduced to.

Boomers may also enjoy the casual misogyny of the film. Hey, those were the good old days, right? Fun fact (according to the movie): The inspiration for “Big Girls Don’t Cry” came from watching Kirk Douglas open-hand slap a woman on television.

If you have an itch for a sing-along musical or a movie to attend with your grandparents, you may enjoy “Jersey Boys.” I’m a big pass.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures