Saturday might have been the longest day of the year, but having just endured Clint Eastwood’s strange, way over-long film version of Jersey Boys, I feel the summer solstice has met its match.. The film is engaging at best but ultimately unsatisfying, and tedium sets in long before the final credits roll.
Part bio-pic and equal parts melodrama, soap opera and gangster flick, the result is a hot mess that leaves one wondering what exactly Eastwood had in mind. No stranger to films about music, notably his wonderful bio-pic of Charlie Parker, Bird, the director pours on artifice like a sugar addict, bloating the almost two-and-a-half-hour film to the breaking point.
In his much better earlier film The Bridges of Madison County, he again used jazz in the background, leading one to think that a film about an iconic pop-group of the 1960’s might not have been his particular métier, as it were. One can palpably sense the strain the director felt trying to integrate the harmless but immensely hummable tunes of The Four Seasons into an overly ambitious story of rags-to-riches-to rags with too much emphasis on the latter and not enough on the raison d’etre of the group’s success: namely, THE SONGS!!
From “Sherry,” “Dawn,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry”–the list of monster hits was the sound-track of baby boomers all across America (and the world). Frankie Valli’s alternately pleasing or grating nasal falsetto was inescapable on the pop radio stations and their appearances on Ed Sullivan and other variety shows (remember those anyone?) equaled The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in record sales and adoring fan worship.
When, roughly 45 minutes into the film, we finally hear Valli let out with the high opening notes of “Sherry,” the audience palpably sighs, sits up and comes to its collective sense of nostalgic joy. This is what we came to hear, Mr. Eastwood. I have not seen the stage version of Jersey Boys so I cannot say whether as much back-story appeared in the original, but I doubt it.
Eastwood has clearly been nourished on Scorsese’s Mean Streets and especially Goodfellas and he uses the latter film’s “breaking the fourth wall” in having characters address the audience directly, but here it seems like a device. It is amusing that Joe Pesci himself figures in the story line as a friend of the singing group in their early days.
The film is remarkably linear and straight-forward with only one flashback and this is to the good of the movie’s structural integrity. Eastwood knows how to tell a story, but it is hard not to feel deja-vu all over again in the incessant scenes of gang ties, hysterical wives and would-be Mafia dons. In that regard, Christopher Walken, looking downright sepulchral almost sends himself up in his borderline comical scenes with Valli, weeping openly when he hears that “God-given voice.”
The entire cast does the film proud with John Lloyd Young reprising his Broadway Frankie Valli. His voice does not have quite the strangled edge as the original singer and there’s not much he can do with a role that leaves him appearing like a nice Italian boy who made good. If you blink you’ll miss the director’s “Hitchcockian”nod to himself in a brief glimpse from the TV series Rawhide. A bit more humor like that would’ve gone a long way. Still, for fans of Mr. Valli and company, how can you pass this film up?
Jeff Klayman grew up in New York and had his first play produced at the legendary off-broadway mecca, La Mama E.T.C. Other plays have been produced in Los Angeles and London, England. He has authored a book of children’s stories and was a winner of the A.F.I. sit-com writers competition which brought him to Los Angeles, where he lives with his two cats, Misty and Ben, and his guitar.