Minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
On stage, “Jersey Boys” was less a conventional musical than a jukebox, a time machine for baby boomers. The joy came not from the plot or the characters (which were riddled with show-biz clichés) but rather from the nostalgic rush of hearing the falsetto-heavy hits of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons being performed live.
So how do you transfer that singular thrill to film?
You don’t. At least director Clint Eastwood hasn’t been able to.
We all know that movies are a liar’s game, that a musical number in a film has been pre-recorded, sonically sweetened and constructed from several individual performances cannily edited together. Even with the knowledge that we’re hearing the actual voice of John Lloyd Young, the stage actor who reprises his performance as lead singer Frankie Valli, I found it all…well, underwhelming.
Eastwood is a musician and composer and he has in his resume the ambitous “Bird,” a biopic about jazz legend Charlie Parker. But here he seems to have been hamstrung by a creative team drawn largely from the stage production and committed to not allowing too much divergence from what was seen on Broadway and in countless touring companies.
Scripted by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who also wrote the book for the stage musical, “Jersey Boys” is the story of four Italian American kids who rise from the mean streets around Newark to making hit record after hit record throughout the 1960s.
The elements are familiar. There are early brushes with the law (the opening hour feels like ersatz Scorsese), struggles to get gigs and a recording contract, the eventual triumph on the pop music charts followed by revelations of financial shenanigans, marital discord and personal tragedy, not to mention the debilitating effects of constant touring and personalities rubbed raw by too much proximity.