Wednesday, 2 July 2014


Warner Bros./Roadshow Films

When is a musical not a musical? When it's a big screen adaptation of a Broadway smash, helmed by a director better known for masculinity and economy rather than razzle dazzle.

Not that there isn't a song or two in Clint Eastwood's Jersey Boys -- the story of the rise, fall and rise of Frankie Valli and the Four seasons -- nor the occasional dance number, but any joie de vivre that was to be found in the original stage production seems to have gone AWOL for the movie.

Yes, the hits are there -- Sherry, Big Girls Don't Cry, Walk Like A Man, Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You -- in one form or another, but as the story progresses from the suburbs of New Jersey in 1951 to the big time (and from varying points of view as in the stage version), there's very little in the way of drama or emotion. There's barely even a pulse.

But it's not all Eastwood's fault. Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who wrote the original musical book for the stageplay, have adapted their own work, perhaps not realising that what works on the stage doesn't necessarily translate to the screen.

The same can be said for leading man John Lloyd Young. Young originated the role of Frankie Valli on Broadway when Jersey Boys debuted in 2004 and the boy can sing (though he's a little too old to pass as a 16-year-old Valli). But his screen presence is lacking, and the role as written doesn't provide much in the way of character.

Frankie may have the voice of an angel but he doesn't have much in the way of a personality. It's Vincent Piazza's Tommy DeVito who has the hutzpah (or whatever the Italian equivalent is), and there's some fun from his to-camera posturing as well as to be had at his expense; Bob Gaudio (Erich Burgen) is the bland pretty boy who writes the hits, and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) is the good-natured fourth wheel seemingly there to make up the numbers.

Success, internal group tensions, mob affiliations (hello, Christopher Walken as the least threatening Godfather ever) and family breakdowns play out without any sense of excitement, danger or emotion, thus the audience's investment in this age old tale of rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches may come down to one's appreciation for the back catalogue of the Four Seasons. And if you loved Jersey Boys on the stage, you may just get a kick out of seeing it on the big screen.

The same goes for those who are fans of Eastwood the director but not so much the musical as a film genre. For Jersey Boys is no Dreamgirls (2006). Or Hairspray (2007), or Chicago, the 2002 film which sparked a revival of the musical in Hollywood following its Oscars* success, though a little of that film's razzle dazzle could have gone a long way here.

(*Eastwood and co. need not worry about keeping their calendars clear for February 2015).