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JERSEY BOYS Movie Review: Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons' Boring Story

Jersey Boys John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli'Jersey Boys' movie review: Great music fails to save Clint Eastwood-directed film version of the 2005 Broadway musical (photo: John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli of the Four Seasons in 'Jersey Boys')

Clint Eastwood's semi-historically accurate biopic of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Jersey Boys, is based on the hit 2005 Broadway musical — and it is a crushing bore. But we shall start with the positive: In Eastwood's film, the music and the performances of the music (which are not the same thing) are great. That is to be expected, as the Jersey Boys movie cast is mostly composed from cast members of the stage show, including Tony winner John Lloyd Young, who happens to look a lot like Frankie Valli and who has a four-plus octave range. Lucky boy. Lloyd Young is also a serviceable actor with a number of (mostly stage) credits that did not require a piercing falsetto. That combination allows him to play Frankie Valli with just enough verisimilitude to smoothly slip into the music of the Four Seasons like a shark-skin suit, and to convincingly play the fairly lugubrious drama of Mr. Valli's not particularly interesting life. But once again, Clint Eastwood's Jersey Boys movie is a bore.

The ridiculously handsome Erich Bergen, as songwriting genius Bob Gaudio — the linchpin addition to the flailing Four Lovers doo-wop group, then renamed The Four Seasons — is also a hoot to watch. Bergen can act, he can dance, and he's funny. Michael Lomenda makes his film debut as Nick Massi, the bass player. It's a thankless role that Lomenda plays heartily, not unlike the long-suffering bass player for the original Four Seasons. In truth, Massi quit the band long before the moment depicted in Jersey Boys, but I don't blame the filmmakers for taking license; the movie would have been that much more boring if they hadn't. Lomenda is funny, and he can act, dance, and play bass at the same time, which is sumthin' all by itself.

Vincent Piazza plays Tommy DeVito, a former lead singer of several failed groups who has to give up the limelight to Frankie Valli, whose talent and charisma is indisputable. DeVito is a scoundrel and an asshole who both puts the original group together and causes its eventual demise. Not long ago, Piazza had a good run playing Lucky Luciano on the series Boardwalk Empire; he plays "ass" with relish, and he plays a nice rhythm guitar too. He's good.

'Jersey Boys': Good cast means it 'may be a movie with a great soundtrack' — but not much more

Giving these guys their big movie break is a noble effort on the part of Jersey Boys director-producer Clint Eastwood, a veteran who knows how tough a break in movies is to come by. So he gives the cast of the Jersey Boys musical a break in a Clint Eastwood movie — and they're good. But I can't help but imagine the diminutive Broadway actress Stephanie Mills, Dorothy in the Tony-winning 1974 musical The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical "Wonderful Wizard of Oz," and her big-booming voice being cast in Sidney Lumet's 1978 film The Wiz, which instead starred sinewy, doe-eyed Diana Ross, and her fragile, lilting voice. Yes, the movie was panned, but the soundtrack was great.

But once again, the cast of Jersey Boys is good. Unfortunately, “good” is not what a film otherwise as uninteresting as Jersey Boys needs. A film this dull needs great. These guys are good, which suggests Jersey Boys may be a movie with a great soundtrack.

Clint Eastwood is part of the problem

A share of the problem lies with Clint Eastwood, whose uninspired direction is also merely "good." Jersey Boys looks fine. Indeed, the Warner Bros. backlot, which is where most of the film was shot, always looks fine. The staged New Jersey and New York streets, complete with the correct mix of automobiles from the late '50s and '60s, are meticulously well done — as if from memory. In fact, Jersey Boys is so "backlot," so staid and staged, it might have actually been made in the '50s.

Of course, all of the principals involved in Jersey Boys who don't appear on screen are septuagenarians or octogenarians and do remember these days, perhaps even these places, first hand. Executive producers Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio were guiding forces behind the musical's adaptation to film, along with musical director Bob Crewe (who is also depicted in the film). In fact, most of the key decision-makers about the content found in Jersey Boys are people depicted by name in the film. This is a circumstance that might be tamed only by a director as venerable as Clint Eastwood — who chooses not to. Eastwood loves the music of this era; he is enamored of these artists and his admiration shows in this flat, overly nostalgic, overly reverent, and totally paceless movie. Jersey Boys meanders from one scene to the next, one year to the next, one season to the next, marking events as if they were on a checklist of notes handed down from the executive producers. Which they probably were.

The result is a film that never whirls one up in the excitement of a young musical group being discovered, scratching their way to the top, having it all, and losing it all, even though that's exactly what happened in the real-life history of the Four Seasons, in the very popular stage musical — and in Clint Eastwood's very boring movie. Vexing, certainly, but the causes are simple. Jersey Boys is fodder for musical theater. That's what it is, and that's what it should be; sometimes it just does not translate. Chicago translated to cinema; All That Jazz, did not. Neither did A Chorus Line, Rent, etc.

'Jersey Boys': Boring 'real-life' tales make for boring cinema

And finally, despite the successful musical, the Jersey Boys movie is boring because the story of the Four Seasons and the much beloved Mr. Frankie Valli is equally boring. The great Marshall Brickman, writer and/or co-writer of Woody Allen's Annie Hall and Manhattan, and — with Rick Elice — of the book for the Jersey Boys stage musical, serves (along with Elice) as screenwriter for the film adaptation. Brickman and Elice have a problem in that there is little in the history of the Four Seasons or Frankie Valli's life that's actually interesting, even given the real-life circumstance of their having become enduring pop stars. Remarkable, but true.

As found in Jersey Boys, the gist is this: Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons were borderline delinquents who were mob-adjacent. But for the fact that they had talent, they'd have likely moved into the neighborhood. Clint Eastwood's film turns Valli into an angel and a stand-up guy who pays his debts — and apparently the debts of everyone else. And he only whored around a little. That's pretty much it. Brickman, Elice, and Eastwood attempt to hide this blandness by having everyone speak in Jersey-ese: the accents, slang, and attitude are all Jersey. That is cute, then irritating, then very irritating. And that is exactly how I feel about the movie itself.

Ultimately, Jersey Boys proves that truth is often neither stranger nor as interesting as fiction. The Four Seasons have certainly left a legacy of great music, but here are just a few films set during that same period, and that feature great songs and great — though fictional — stories that won't bore you senseless: Allison Anders' Grace of my Heart, a great movie with a great story, starring Illeana Douglas (dubbed by Kristen Vigard) in her first major film role, playing opposite Matt Dillon. Robert Townsend's The Five Heartbeats, which features a host of wonderful, young black actors, including Townsend himself and Leon (from Madonna's "Like a Prayer" music video), the latter beautifully "not" playing Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations. And lastly, Taylor Hackford's The Idolmaker, starring Ray Sharkey and a young Peter Gallagher. A lover of this type of music, Hackford would receive an Academy Award nomination for directing another great period musical, Ray, one that is based on a true story — and gets it right.

Note from the editor: The Jersey Boys movie review has been amended to reflect the fact that Illeana Douglas was dubbed by Kristen Vigard (backup singer with Fishbone and the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the '80s) in Grace of My Heart, which provided Douglas with her first major starring role. The Jersey Boys review previously stated that Douglas did her own singing in Grace of My Heart. (See comment below.)

Jersey Boys (2014). Director: Clint Eastwood. Screenplay: Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice; from the Broadway musical written by Brickman and Elice. Cast: John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Vincent Piazza, Christopher Walken, Renée Marino, Johnny Cannizzaro, Kathrine Narducci, Lou Volpe, Lacey Hannan, Mike Doyle, Jeremy Luke.

Photo of John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli of the Four Seasons in Jersey Boys: Warner Bros.

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10 Comments to JERSEY BOYS Movie Review: Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons' Boring Story

  1. ant

    unfortunately I found the movie even more clinical n mathematical than the Stage Production was.
    I also feel Valli(the real singer) modulated from chest voice to Falsetto in the passages of the songs much smoother than Lloyd. Also I found the musical numbers quite lacking in excitement.
    I never felt the stage show was amazing and similarly I found this even less so.

  2. StarVoyager

    …Versil…Versillimilitude…Shit, I can't even spell it let alone know it's meaning and I'm too fricken tired to look it up. And Lugu…Lugu…Lugubrious?…What the FCK does THAT mean?!
    You can always tell when a critic is writing…it's as if they are trying to be more important than the story they are trying to write about.
    As far as the film is concerned…win some lose some, who cares. It's all about the music anyway, isn't it?
    Nobody gives a rats hiney about the back story of any rocker let alone ancient rockers. It all comes down to the music. Does it stand alone…like the Beatles….But not like Kanye…only Kanye thinks his music is the greatest of all time. Thats what all bone heads like him want to believe.

  3. Lisa Lee

    I disagree with this and all negative reviews about Jersey Boys. My mom grew up in this era and sang in her own band, "Connie Stevens and the Raindrops". I grew up on this music and have some Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons discs of my own. By the way my mom didn't have to change her real name it's Connie Stevens. I think the movie moved along with STORYTELLING, not like so many others this summer that you find it hard to keep up. Maybe this critic should review some of the great big blockbusters and come back to Mr Eastwoods film and see if he knows what good STORYTELLING is about. You see it's a Story about Frankie and the Four Seasons life, of which I have no doubt they, with their mob connection, could've ended up in prison or dead. I liked the STORY about their life, rise and fall AND ALL. Although I was saddened by the death of Mr. Valli's daughter. I did not know he lost a child. I guess this reviewer found that boring too. I don't think there were many dry eyes in the theater over that. So, please people find out for yourselves if you like this movie or not. Don't rely on critics or even my review. Make up your own mind and go see it. If I had relied on critics telling me what to see and not to see, I would have missed out on some great movies. Even my favorite, ALL THAT JAZZ!!!!!!

  4. editor

    The comment made by "Barbara Gordon" was nearly gutted because of its infantile, unnecessarily nasty first two sentences. Every once in a while we let such abusive, trollish and inflammatory remarks pass so readers can see how rabidly outraged some people get because a reviewer happens not to like a movie, or actor, or director, or what-have-you that the Outraged One happens to find "in the league of great" this or that. Something that says much more about the commenter than about the reviewer, who, without resorting to below-the-belt ad hominem attacks, has managed to clearly and pointedly express his views on "Jersey Boys" and Clint Eastwood — as is his right.

  5. Barbara Gordon

    Also, as an addendum; the lives of these men were not boring. The film portrayed the real lives of four talented men. You sure used the word boring a lot. Their lives seemed like "real live". They sured packed a lot of life in their "boring" lives". Are you talented enough to write and sing songs; make deals, and have families, even if they are not so perfect.

  6. Barbara Gordon

    Mr. Cogshell,
    I believe you must have a hard on for Clint Eastwood. You naughty, naughty boy. Of course I disagree with everything you said about Mr. Eastwood and the movie. The cast and singing were pitch perfect. I sat immersed in the movie from beginning to end. (which is what I do when I am watching a stunning, enthralling movie.) The acting, the singing, the scenery, which you think was boring; I thought was right on. I loved the movie and could write more, but this will suffice. I think you must examine your abusive, trollish and inflammatory comments, and hopefully rescind them. I think you don't like Clint Eastwood. I personally do and think that he is in the league of great actors, directors and men.
    Thank you for publishing my comments.

  7. editor

    @Pawl

    The text of the "Jersey Boys" movie review will be amended re: Kristen Vigard singing the songs in "Grace of My Heart." Thank you for the correction.

    But the movie *did* provide Illeana Douglas with her first major starring role and Matt Dillon *is* in it — he plays the character Jay Phillips (Douglas' romantic interest in the film).

  8. Pawl Burke

    Illeana did not sing her own songs, They were sung by Kristen Vigard and no one, including I;;eana tried to make a secret of it. it was not her first "big movie" and where was Matt Dillon in it? Did I read this right? Giant boo-boos.

  9. Carol

    Wow, I must have seen a different film !!!! I' ve already seen it twice and loved it just as much the 2nd time , and so did my companions ! Can't believe the reviewer was bored !! No wild sex , no mass murders ??? I hated for it to end !!!! It was so beautifully done and totally authentic . Plus , all unfamiliar faces on the screen …. How refreshing !! I am so sick of the same handful of so -so actors in EVERY movie . Excellent casting done here , with the very best choices portraying " the Four Seasons " !! My compliments to Eastwood …. Great directing …. I may even take my nephew and see it again !!!

  10. Ron

    I disagree totally with the reviewer's comment that Jersey Boys is a bore. I loved the Broadway show. And the movie version is just as good. The acting is wonderful. The singing is superlative. It is an interesting story. Nothing bored me for a minute. I see many movies. This one was well done and I choked up at some parts. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to see a movie with a story that has a heart to it.




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