Thursday, June 26, 2014

Clint Eastwood Saps All The Energy Out of This Goodfellas Wannabe: Our Review of "Jersey Boys" (2014)

Directed By: Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby

Starring: John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Michael Lomenda, Erich Bergen, Christopher Walken

Rating: R for language throughout

Run Time: 2 hours, 14 minutes

Synopsis: Based on the hit Broadway show of the same name, Jersey Boys follows the ups and downs of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, from their formation in Jersey to their money troubles with the mob and the fallout that ensued, all told from the perspective of the band members themselves.


Andrew: Hello readers! A few days ago Sarah and I checked out one of this past weekend’s new wide releases, Jersey Boys, an adaptation of the popular Broadway show of the same title. This film version, directed by none other than Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood of all people, stars John Lloyd Young as he reprises his original Broadway role as Frankie Valli, Vincent Piazza of Boadwalk Empire fame as Tommy DeVito and Christopher Walken.

Sarah, I think this will be a little bit of an interesting review since you have actually seen the Broadway show in New York City while I have never seen in any incarnation. So this was my first experience with the story. I’ll let you kick it off with what you thought, especially in comparison to the stage show.

Sarah: Well, I’ll start off by saying this: compared to the show…it’s not even close. The original show is a true musical. It not only chronicles the path to fame for the Four Seasons but also highlights their music and incorporates it in the show to really tell a story. In the movie, the music was just a background.

A: Just to interject real quick, to me this movie felt like more of a biopic in the vein of Walk the Line or Ray. And not unlike those movies, they used the music in more of a, “Hey, here’s them recording their first hit, here’s them in their first television performance,” etc.

S: Yes! But here’s the problem: while that’s all well and good for those movies, this story was a Broadway musical, IS a Broadway musical. This movie was NOT a musical.

A: As in it didn’t have musical numbers.

S: It didn’t have musical numbers! The stage show DID. This movie is adapted from the show, sure, but it’s not like Rock of Ages where they practically took the stage show to screen shot-to-shot. I don’t kno, I did not like this movie.

A: No?

S: No. And I LOVED the stage show! The show was like Rock of Ages where you want to get up and dance along to the music. By the end of the show people in the audience were clapping along and just having so much fun! There was energy in the room. This movie had absolutely NO energy. It was like every other Clint Eastwood movies that we have seen recently. No energy. This movie had so much promise. What did you think of Jersey Boys?

Do not be fooled, while this may look like a musical number, it's really not.

A: I think you just nailed it on the head right there at the end. This movie had no energy whatsoever. Not to say it’s a totally bleak affair but coming from a Broadway musical where people are clapping and dancing in the aisles, I wanted to see that on the screen a little bit.

I can understand why Eastwood and the writers went in this direction because, to an extent, the rise and fall of the Four Seasons fits in nicely with a music biopic, especially with the mob ties. I’ve read this elsewhere, the comparisons have been made by others first, but it was almost like Eastwood was trying to make a Goodfellas-lite type of movie.

S: It’s like he had watched a lot of mob movies to emulate without having ever seen the stage show. Which is a shame, because the movie was actually produced by the real Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio, two members of the original band. It was just a shame.

Also, I had a big problem with the main actor, John Lloyd Young, who plays Frankie Valli. He sings beautifully, sounds great obviously, but here’s the problem: people think that you can take a stage star and throw him on the big screen and it will be a seamless transition. That is not the case in most instances. But if you throw a stage actor onto the big screen, there's a chance he's going to stick out like a sore thumb!

When Young was in the singing scenes, he did a great job; he looked more comfortable. But as soon as you tried to have him interact with other characters, he was stiff and awkward and - I stand by what I said earlier - he stuck out like a sore thumb. He was as stiff as a board! Which doesn’t make any sense except for the fact that not all stage actors can translate to the screen.

A: And I think to me, I know we were talking about this earlier, what I find it entertaining to an extent is that Young is 38 years old. He was 30 when he originally played the part on Broadway. In the beginning of the movie, he’s supposed to play a 16 year old Valli and he’s actually around that age for a good chunk of the movie.

Then throughout the movie he plays Valli all the way up until the year 1990 when Valli would've been 56. And honestly I thought he did better playing the younger version - the man doesn’t have a wrinkle on him, but then when it got to the later years when he actually had to have some pathos and a family with grown daughters and fights with his wife, it just didn’t come off the way I’m sure they would have hoped. 

But you know what? I did like Piazza as Tommy DeVito, to an extent. He kind of plays the Goodfellas-esque mob guy from Jersey and he does it pretty well. It’s exaggerated a little bit which is fine.

S: It was tough because at times I felt like they really wanted to exaggerate that on-stage feel and then there were times when they really wanted to keep everything somewhat subtle. It was like they couldn’t decide what they wanted to do. Did they want it to be more like the screen version of the stage show or did they wan it to be a totally new adaptation? And it ended up being neither. It was a hodgepodge of both, and it was distracting and frustrating. The stage show clipped along at a really good place and then you had this movie where it did nothing but drag. For most of the first hour of the movie they weren’t even the Four Seasons yet!

A: But you know what? I found that part to be the most interesting part of the whole movie. To see how they formed and the audition Bob Gaudio has with them to get in and how they finally got a record deal with Bob Crewe. I thought that was the part where the music felt in line with the story line and there was a little bit of energy there. It was actually when they became the Four Seasons and then it became about their tours and money problems that I just didn’t like as much. Which is a shame because I should have enjoyed all those things.

So, here’s another thing; I understand from the show’s soundtrack and reading about it the show, that for the film they brought the "breaking the fourth wall to give exposition" straight from the stage show. And I hated it here. Hated it!

S: It didn’t fit!

A: Exactly. I can see how it would work well within the framework of the show where it goes from them narrating to the crowd, creating a connection with a LIVE crowd, and then going into a big number. But here, where Eastwood is trying to play everything straight, breaking the fourth wall felt so out of place.

This is what we're talking about. This breaking the fourth wall does not
work in the film. Even worse, the movie STARTS with this particular scene.

S: Well it’s exactly like what I just said; they couldn’t decide what kind of movie they wanted it to be. It’s a musical that didn’t want to be a musical. It lacked vision. The whole movie just lacked vision.

A: Jon Favreau was originally slated to direct this movie and I really wish he had.

S: Because this movie SCREAMED recent Clint Eastwood dribble.

A: Oh, it's washed out in its color palette just like J. Edgar was, just like Changeling was. It looked drab. Again, this should have been a lively movie and they completely desaturated everything about it. So that disappointed me. All that said, the music itself was great.

S: When they actually played the music, but they didn’t even play all the song from the show in the movie! Which was a shame because they really are able to weave every song into the storyline of the show in a very seamless way. The movie didn’t do any of that. 

And then at the end of the movie they decide to throw in this big musical number! It was like they went, “Oh wait! Let’s remind you that this was a show.” And then the colors brightened and it had energy…it was so out of place.

A: That was by far the most jarring thing. For the end credit sequence it actually becomes a musical number like a Broadway show.

S: On a set that now looks exactly like a Broadway set. It was confusing. I was confused.

A: There were some very painful points. I do want to say this though: I didn’t hate the movie. I didn’t particularly like it, either though. There was promise there and I think Eastwood destroyed it. For instance, in what should have been the movie’s crowning moment - and let me preface this by saying this isn’t a spoiler because this is based on real life and you could have looked this up on Wikipedia - in one part of the movie Valli’s daughter, who he is trying to reconcile with, starts to show up more and they're relationship starts getting better. Valli gets a call one day that he expects is from his daughter but then finds out that she has died of an overdose. Then Eastwood and his editor smash cut immediately to the funeral. It was so jarring, so awkward.

S: You knew when he was talking on the phone that it was someone giving him bad news but you didn’t know what had happened and then it was like BOOM, funeral in your face.

A: That in and of itself was so off to me. So then after the funeral, Bob brings him the lyrics to “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” their big love ballad. It’s this big number that Bob has finally incorporated a horn section into and it’s supposed to be exciting and somewhat redemptive, but the performance scene just completely fell flat. Visually especially. They kept flipping back and forth between two or three shots. The. Exact. Same. Shots. It was ridiculous. It was so static and there was no life to it. If there was going to be a part of the movie where there was energy, this was it, and there just wasn’t. While the music gave me chills, once those shots kept rolling I was like, “When can this be over?”

S: The whole movie was just static. And then there was the final scene’s makeup fiasco. Whoever works with Eastwood on his films needs to know how to do old-age makeup because they are just terrible. And this was no exception. They had all the actors done up to look like really old men in 1990 and holy-moly was it atrocious. You could see where all the prosthetics was glued on. You could also see the layers and layers of make-up. If you’re going to do that, don’t do super close-up shots of the actors.

A: It was…not good. The makeup here was very reminiscent of the terrible makeup jobs done on Leonardo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer in J. Edgar. Also, as I mentioned earlier Frankie Valli would've been 56 in those final scenes but they make him look 70. It was again, jarring and took me out of the movie. 

So honestly, I would say if you’re a fan of the stage show, don’t see this movie. This was just a bad Goodfellas knock off that Eastwood was trying to get out of a musical.

S: I would give this one a 1.5/5

A: I've thought long and hard about what to give this one, and while I said I didn't hate it, it still wasn't good. I'll give it a 1.5/5 as well.

FINAL VERDICT: Skip it entirely!

(Individual Scores - S: 1.5/5  A: 1.5/5)

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