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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Jersey Boys Review: I Don't Get It

The emotionally hollow Jersey Boys loses our attention early and never gains it back.

As a child of the 1980's, my world was filled with Duran Duran, Van Halen, and Rush. Part of the allure was the life these rock heroes led, and wanting to know more about them fueled my appreciation for their music.  And yet all of their stories would be far more entertaining to see than the happily pleasant but emotionally unfulfilling Jersey Boys.

Based on the Broadway production, Jersey follows the rise of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. Frankie (John Lloyd Young), Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) and Tommy (Vincent Piazza) are mobster troublemakers whose desire to sing their way out of New Jersey leads them to fortune and fame. Mob boss Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken) sees greatness in Frankie, and soon others join the bandwagon. With the arrival of songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), The Four Seasons begin their meteoric rise with a string of hits that pepper the 1960's. But Tommy's gambling soon destroys the group, forcing Frankie to go on an extended tour to dig the band out of a crushing debt. As such a committment wrecks his home life, Frankie must deal with immeasurable tragedy, while living his dream as a singer.

Jersey tries its best to cash in on the fond memories of its mostly elderly audience without realizing that most of them probably won't pay to see this film. For those of us with zero connection to the time, the film has plot holes big enough to drive The Beatles through. The story lacks a cohesive narrative, never getting too deep into the pressures of writing and touring. Oh sure, there's mentions of it throughout but no time to dig down into its real effect, sans a couple of scenes of Frankie and his drunk wife Mary (Renée Marino) having it out before Frankie departs. His daughter Francine's death is never fully explained, again assuming that the audience has all the facts but are waiting to see it played out. Biopic Oscar winners like Lincoln succeeded due to its tightly historical scope, limiting itself to just 3 months. Such a wide-reaching story like Jersey Boys suffers under its own weight in deciding which parts to highlight. The result is one song after another with no care given to the human elements behind them. Sure, our characters interact with the camera, helping to provide some markers for our disjointed roadmap, but these only set up the scenes, and the mostly green acting troupe doesn't have the dramatic chops to cut through such terse material.

Jersey feels emotionally hollow, as Eastwood and his horde of writers (4 more in total) seem disinterested in wrapping our tale in any sort of historical context. Instead, it jumps through eras like a circus act, content on making the next fiery hoop so they can reach the next and the expected applause of their fans. It would have been insightful to see the band deal with the pop wave of the 1980's, the arrival of The Beatles in 1961, and growth and fall of Disco. Imagine learning what the band thought of Jimi Hendrix's flamboyant style, or The Beatles ushering in Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. But that's not why we're here, as Eastwood scrubs out any historical context in favor of ditties that sound only merely decent. Unlike the film adaption of Les Miserables, our singers here stepped into the studio to re-record their tracks, leaving a staleness to each song. That's too bad, considering the tremendous response Les Mis received by recording live. The result is that we're no more convinced why The Four Seasons were so important than when we started, leaving us to wonder how this band warranted big-screen treatment. Honestly, pick up a copy of VH1's usually solid Behind the Music, and we promise you'll learn more about them.

At 134 minutes, Jersey still has so little to say, particularly during the last 25 years leading up to The Four Seasons's induction into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We're suddenly rushed from 1975-ish (and given few clues as to time periods throughout the film) to Cleveland as the band performs together for the first time in decades. But we think 50-year-olds and older will be entertained, much like they were when they saw The Four Seasons live during their youth. For the rest of us, the experience is merely tedious as we jump to the next big hit.

It will be difficult - if near impossible - for Jersey Boys to find an audience. Those who are old enough to pay will probably wait to see it on home video, and few Summer moviegoers are going to pay this any attention. For such an important period as the 1960's represents, Jersey Boys fails utterly to keep our attention.

Jersey Boys is rated R for language throughout and has a runtime of 134 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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