You think Clint Eastwood, you don’t think musical. Paint your Wagon aside, he doesn’t exactly ooze, camp, song-tune charm. This is why it is surprising that he directed a film adaption of a Broadway hit but not so surprising that he chose Jersey Boys.
Jersey Boys isn’t a musical in the common, familiar sense. It isn’t a film where characters burst spontaneously into song, every character joining in and every extra in the background taking part in a supportive, choreographed dance. Jersey Boys is the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and the songs are performed as they were in real life, rather than as a staged, musical number you would commonly expect.
In this sense, I don’t think Jersey Boys is really a musical at all. We get snippets of songs, full performances of the classics and probably more music than your average movie but it never really felt like the musical experience you’d get from seeing Grease or Hairspray. Jersey Boys isn’t a musical, it’s a drama about music.
Luckily, the music that features is very good. There is a reason why Frankie Valli’s famous band has been adapted for the stage, his songs are catchy, famous and great. Sherry is a belting tune, Oh What a Night is a great signature song and other musical moments, like Big Boys Don’t Cry, fit perfectly with the style of the movie. You can’t fault the music at all and one of the highlights is seeing the development of the music, how these songs came to be, whether by creative genius or by accident.
Unfortunately, the actual tale of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is a familiar one. It is essentially “band struggles, becomes successful, self-destructs and then reflects on the past.” It’s been done before in many music centered movies and most notably follows similar themes as the film That Thing You Do. In fact, this movie falters more because the later segments feel overlong, trying to tell a deep, interesting story where one doesn’t seem to exist.
There is a lot to like about the film though and Eastwood uses a great structure to tell the tale, each of the supporting Seasons getting their turn to narrate. It helps that you feel like you are seeing the story from another’s biased point-of-view because some characters come of better than others. It can be no coincidence that the two characters that seem to come off as the “heroes” of the story, Frankie Valli himself and songwriter Bob Gaudio, are active producer’s on the movie and soundtrack.
That shouldn’t take away from what is an enjoyable musical movie, with great songs, sang very ably by the young cast, particularly John Lloyd Young who has big, intimidating shoes to fill playing Frankie Valli. He manages it though and takes over the role with great success.
Overall, Jersey Boys is not the rip-roaring, musical experience I was expecting. It is a well-shot, interesting drama with a fantastic soundtrack. Although the story feels very familiar, the fact it is true and has some great songs supporting it, make for a decent movie.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)