Monday, July 7, 2014

Movie Review: "Jersey Boys"

Making movies out of Broadway musicals is nothing new, but it seems to have become more frequent in recent years, and we've even gone the movie-turned musical-turned movie again route a few times. (Of course, they've also made musicals out of movies, but that's a different article.)

While sometimes the adaptation works (IMHO, Grease is a prime example), many times the transition from stage to screen is more awkward, because where simply bursting into song works for musicals, it doesn't always feel right in the movies, so directors and screenwriters feel compelled to add dialogue and facial expressions that weren't necessary onstage.

Jersey Boys was a pretty fantastic musical, the winner of the Tony for Best Musical in 2006. Recounting the story of 60s-supergroup The Four Seasons, from their humble beginnings in (where else?) New Jersey to their successes and challenges along the way, the musical was upbeat and grabbed your attention from start to finish, because The Four Seasons' music was so memorable and hooked you immediately.

Clint Eastwood's film adaptation endeavors to do the same thing, tracing the group's start to know-it-all Tommy DeVito's (Vincent Piazza) shepherding of young Frankie Valli née Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young, recreating his Tony-winning role) to the mega-talent he became. After a series of brushes with the law, DeVito and his friend Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) agree to let Frankie join their musical group, only to discover the world doesn't want any more trios. So they find Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), already a successful songwriter in his own right, and convince him to join the group and write them some hits.

But success doesn't come easy to the Jersey boys (see what I did there?), as they find themselves fighting with a record executive to get the chance to record a demo, and they need to find the money to fund their own studio time. And then that first magical hit takes shape...and the rest is history. But along their road to success comes a number of bumps—personal problems within and outside the group, jealousy, gambling problems which lead to debts and other challenges, the need to control the group, etc. Suddenly this group that made such joyful music doesn't seem so joyful.

Getting the chance to hear all of The Four Seasons' hits, see all of the terrific choreography, and feel all of the energy from their performances was what made the musical so appealing. The music is still the best part of the movie, but the pauses between songs are much longer. There's far too much introspection, far too much backstory, far too much of the characters talking directly to the camera (a gimmick which worked much better in the stage version), and just not enough singing. But when the band takes center, well, stage, that's when the movie comes alive.

The performances are all strong—Young still sounds great (although you can tell the years of hitting those high notes has worn down the smoothness of his voice), and although I wish they had been able to reunite the original Broadway cast for the movie (especially Christian Hoff, who also won a Tony for playing Tommy DeVito), Piazza, Bergen, and Lomenda do quite well. The only person who seems a little out of place is Christopher Walken, who plays mafioso Gyp DeCarlo. I can't help but feel that many of his performances have become caricatures of Walken himself.

If you loved the musical, you'll probably be a little disappointed by the movie, although the music is still worth the price of admission. It's an okay movie, not a great one—if you have a choice, I'd definitely recommend you see the musical if at all possible. Ultimately, the movie will be good to watch at home one rainy or cold night, where you can sing along with no fear of upsetting your fellow audience members, but I definitely wouldn't pay full price for it.

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