Actor/Director Clint Eastwood’s filmed version of this wildly successful Broadway musical takes a meandering, hard-nosed look at the life and musical legacy of Frankie Valli, a working class high school dropout who became the lead singer for The Four Seasons, a pop music group with a string of hits from the ‘60’s to the ‘80’s.
Eastwood’s career behind the camera has produced more than a few memorable moments (Million Dollar Baby, Letters FromIwo Jima, Mystic River, etc.); his straightforward approach to shooting a scene often provides an almost offhand vitality that contributes to the authenticity of his subject matter.
But bringing a successful stage play to the screen is often fraught with challenges (witness last year’s August:Osage County) and while Eastwood should be given credit for attempting to balance the Tin Pan Alley aspects of this story with a credible examination of the business aspects of the music industry. He struggles to pull off a successful transition here, especially in dealing with the exaggerated, theatrical gestures that serve live audiences well but which appear clumsy in their transfer to the screen. And it doesn’t help that the actors portraying Valli and the other members of the quartet don’t possess the pop star magnetism the storyline requires. It isn’t until the imaginative closing credits that viewers get a glimpse of what Jersey Boys could have been: a full throttle expression of teenage exuberance which shoots for pure emotional release, not intellectual justification or relevance.
Valli’s now 80 years old and this rather reverential examination of his checkered career, like his string of Top 40 hits, doesn’t contain much to recommend it. Having just celebrated his 84th birthday, Eastwood’s prolific output has begun to tilt towards his own demographic (Gran Torino, J. Edgar, Hereafter) but nostalgia’s a fleeting emotion and being on the receiving end of a 2 hour and 15 minutes dose of it can leave you squirming in your seat. After all, a falsetto voice can only take you so far…
The Verdict: A musical biopic which relies far too heavily on the marginal appeal of its subjects rather than the complex milieu that produced them.
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