Jersey Boys (2014)
★★ / ★★★★
The brilliant sort of music video dance number during the beginning of the end credits shows what the film could have been: silly but eye-catching, full of energy, and like silk in our ears. What results instead is an overly serious musical drama—offering very few surprises despite its dramatization—that embraces a typical arc involving the formation, climax, and break-up of a band who made it big the 1960s called The Four Seasons.
Frankie (John Lloyd Young) and Tommy (Vincent Piazza) are in a four-man band with dreams of making it big someday. With Frankie’s unique voice and Tommy’s ability to talk people into just about anything, the band—called The Varietones at the time—is surely on the rise. To escape Belleville, New Jersey, there is a belief that young people either join the army, get mixed up with the mob, or become famous. Tommy and his friends are ambitious: they choose to participate in the latter two.
The picture comes alive when the camera fixates on The Four Seasons on stage. While the songs are very good, the entire package would not have worked if the performers did not exude charisma, energy, and a real love for or belief in what they are doing. We understand as to why the characters eventually reach fame and financial success. Because if we like them, the fans in the movie must like them, too.
But the story is weak and uninteresting. There is a lead mobster named Gyp (Christopher Walken) who is like a father figure to the boys. We wait for something—anything—to happen that will show us why he is an important element that drives the plot forward. Walken is not given anything new or exciting to do; it is as if he were sleepwalking through the role. I was at a loss as to why the screenplay by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice shy away from really exploring how it must have been like to grow up in that specific neighborhood. Sure, we get a taste of petty crimes and misdemeanors but the tone is so light that they are almost treated like a joke.
Thus, the material lacks gravity. Another example of this involves Frankie and his relationship to his wife (Renée Marino) and daughter. We see two or three superficial scenes that denote marital problems. These do not work because Frankie and Mary are never shown as a real couple with believable and flawed chemistry. The scenes they share in the latter half of the picture feel forced, tacked on. We are never involved in their personal lives so, in the end, why should we care about all the drama?
Directed by Clint Eastwood, “Jersey Boys” ought to have been more fun in terms of musical numbers and more engaging with respect to its story. The Four Seasons’ songs are so full of life and longing but the movie is almost the exact opposite. The contradiction fails to translate into entertainment.