Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Jersey Boys review

Movie musicals are hard to come by these days and a movie musical hit is even harder to come by. Les Miserables was a huge hit in 2012 and Mamma Mia rocked theaters in 2008, but does anybody remember Rock of Ages? I don't think so. The latest stage-to-screen adaptation hitting the multiplexes is Jersey Boys, a film about the rise and fall of The Four Seasons, a popular band in the early 1960's. Clint Eastwood tackles the material with a group of seasoned theater pros at his back and does a decent job. This is essentially a lovable mess of a movie. It is incredibly choppy at times and about a half hour too long, but Jersey Boys' saving grace is the fact that it feels like an authentic movie and the period production values are astounding. Not to mention that the cast is top-notch. Jersey Boys may need to do some more edits to trim off all the excess fat, but in its current state, the musical adaptation is a fun, but forgettable film.

Jersey Boys is a musical biopic about the Four Seasons, a phenomenon in the early 1960's. The film tracks the humble beginnings of the band as Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young), Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) play at various bars and nightclubs to try to get themselves famous. Tommy and Nick are both convicts and Frankie is always doing his best to stay out of trouble. Eventually, with the help of mob boss Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken), record producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle) and lyricist/keyboard player Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), the Four Seasons become a household name and end up topping the charts. However, the erratic behavior of Tommy gets in the way, which could signal the end of the band.

Jersey Boys is a movie that could be great, but ends up being just passably entertaining. In many ways, Jersey Boys seems like a perfect mash-up of genres that could work together to create a stunning film. It's one part mob drama, one part biopic and one part stage musical. For the most part, the mix-up of genres works. It's just the fact that the film has poor pacing at times, doesn't know when to end and lacks that cohesion necessary to take a film with a lot of characters and elevate it to the next level. Jersey Boys is still a solid film, but it could have been so much better.

One thing that I won't complain about is the acting. For a movie being released in June, this has some absolutely fantastic performances. Erich Bergen is brilliant as Bob Gaudio who is the character the audience can relate to the most in the entire movie. Bergen is the emotional core at times and he handles that role well. Michael Lomenda also does a solid job as Nick Massi, who isn't exactly the smartest guy. Oddly enough, the weakest link in the whole cast is John Lloyd Young, who plays the main character in the film. Young just doesn't have enough confidence to pull this role off and seems outmatched when facing off against the rest of the cast. However, Young sings his heart out and is fantastic during the musical performances. In fact, Bergen, Lomenda and Piazza also do a great job.

Even if the film adaptation of Jersey Boys is lost forever and nobody remembers this movie twenty years from now, one good thing will surely come out of this movie and that thing is actor Vincent Piazza. I'm telling you, this guy is going to be a star. It might sound like exaggeration, but Piazza flat-out steals this movie. He's definitely playing the stereotypical mobster hothead, but he does it so convincingly and has this demeanor and swagger that most of the other actors don't have. He does a better job than anybody else in this cast and is quite spectacular. I'll be shocked if we don't see Vincent Piazza in other movies in the near future.

The production values on this movie are also very impressive. The sets and the cinematography do a good job of conveying the era that this story takes place in and that's always an important part of period dramas. Eastwood's style can seem a little drab but the dialogue and the music pops off the screen with such energy that it overwhelms any sort of dullness the movie falls into.

I'll say this too: Jersey Boys is not a musical. Jersey Boys is a musical biopic with one big musical number at the end. If you're looking for spontaneous singing and dancing, you're not going to get it with this film. However, the musical number at the end is infectious and well-choreographed. After a shaky third act, the musical number ends the movie on a high note.

Jersey Boys has a real problem with its editing. Some scenes are just completely misplaced. The scenes don't always logically flow and it just feels off. However, despite the choppiness, for its first two acts, Jersey Boys is a very entertaining movie that just always feels a little shaky. It's the third act that really deflates the movie.

The third act of this movie starts out spectacular, with a verbal fight scene between the band that is incredibly visceral and entertaining. However, things soon die out and Jersey Boys just wears out its welcome. After the band breaks up, Jersey Boys switches from being a Four Seasons movie to being a Frankie Valli movie. And I'm sorry, but Valli is not the most interesting character in the movie.

The film focuses a lot on the solo career of Frankie Valli that helps to fix a problem that the band runs into earlier. A lot of the solo could have been cut completely. Especially all of the subplots that involved Valli's mistress, wife and daughter. All of it did nothing to advance the story that the movie was telling for two acts. There were little things about the family during the first part of the movie, but it eventually becomes the central focus, which is a big problem.

Also, Jersey Boys has a case of what I like to call "Peter Jackson Syndrome" which essentially means that it doesn't know how to end the film. The last musical number is good, but there are three or four scenes before that when you think that it's going to end and it doesn't. Maybe I just felt this way because the third act was so tedious, but it was definitely a problem for me. The length was just a huge problem in general.

I pretty much enjoyed this film for what it was: a decent, well-acted, authentic biopic. It's so darn likable, but it's just too long and a little too messy. In the end, I'll remember this film for the great musical numbers, the stellar performances and the crisp, vivid dialogue. This is a well-made film that's just simply too long and too scattered to be the classic film it so desperately wants to be.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.6/10)

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