Rated R for language
Written by Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice and more
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda and more
One of the biggest challenges of biopics – and biographical musicals, for that matter – is that no one’s life is meant to fit into two hours.
“Jersey Boys,” the new movie by Clint Eastwood following the lives of Franki Valli and the Four Seasons, falls prey to that challenge in much the same way as the hit stage musical it so faithfully adapts. The added reality brought about by a transfer to the screen highlights the story’s fast-forwarded feeling, where years zip by in seconds and even major life events are condensed down to 10 minutes or less of screen time. The music is fantastic, but the lives of the people who made it are given short shrift.
The movie is incredibly faithful to the musical, including direct-to-the-audience narration by the characters and an extended credits sequence that appears to be pulled directly from the everyone-takes-a-bow dance number that is often at the end of Broadway shows. The narration is amusing at times and insightful in others, and the credits sequence is charming even though it runs on slightly too long.
Unfortunately, the movie also copies the musical’s attempt to cover more than 30 years of these characters’ lives in just over two hours, a Herculean task doomed to failure. Stories like this hit the biographical details, but it completely misses the hows and whys of a person’s life that truly make for an interesting story. You could get the same effect reading Valli’s Wikipedia page while The Four Seasons’ greatest hits plays in the background.
Onstage, the limitations of the medium means that the audience expects certain gaps in a story, and abrupt transitions in age need only a vocal and posture change to be effective. In a movie, however, all of the details are in front of us, not in our imagination, making it all the more painfully obvious just how much we’re missing.
Not that the actors didn’t try to give us compensations. John Lloyd Young, who plays Valli, has an excellent singing voice that pulls of many of Valli’s vocal acrobatics. Erich Bergen brings a dry sense of humor and the slightest touch of interesting arrogance to the character of Bob Gaudio, and Mike Doyle is an absolute gift as the witty, in-charge and oh-so-slightly-swishy Bob Crewe. Together, the three manage to keep the audience’s attention, even during stretches where the movie feels as though it’s devolving into a TV movie remake of “The Goodfellas.”
There is one other element that kept trying to snatch my attention, though I don’t think Eastwood meant it to. Joseph Russo plays Joey, a young up-and-comer in mob-connected New Jersey who is identified in a throwaway line as being Joe Pesci. Yes, the show credits Pesci, who became famous for appearing in “The Goodfellas,” for introducing Gaudio to the rest of the group that later became “The Four Seasons.” Though research suggests that’s stretching the truth a bit, he was indeed friends with Tommy DeVito, one of the founding members. It also turns out that DeVito did have mob ties, as “Jersey Boys” states.
Now that sounds like a story worth telling. Still, you’d probably need more than two hours to do it.