Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring John Lloyd Young and Christopher Walken. Rated 14A. Now playing
C’mon Clint: have a little fun, why don’t ya? Eastwood’s take on four hoodlums who escape Jersey by singing bubblegum love songs is surprisingly colourless. Then again, Unforgiven and J. Edgar could hardly have trained him for this brand of fizzy soda pop.
In the director’s hands, the song-and-dance-pumped Broadway hit Jersey Boys becomes a passable but tediously predictable portrait of band conflict. Like the musical, Eastwood’s film finds the members of the Four Seasons each addressing the audience directly with the story of Frankie Valli’s rise to teen idol. But they inhabit a grimly realistic ’50s and ’60s shot in desaturated hues. Gone are the musical’s dozens of catchy songs: here we get a handful of hits like “Sherry”, with the only one that taps any real energy in the film’s last, climactic showstopper.
There’s a strange incongruity between this plodding realism and the script’s over-the-top stageyness. The movie Mamma Mia was giddy enough that we might have believed a trio could read music over a composer’s shoulder for the first time and sing it in perfect four-part harmony. Here, when budding composer Bob Gaudio shows the guys his sheet music and they pull it off flawlessly it feels forced because of the tone. Scenes of uniformly grinning audiences swooning to Valli’s falsetto make you long for the deadpan silence of the concert scenes in Inside Llewyn Davis.
Things aren’t all bad. Christopher Walken brings a bit of insanity to the benevolent mob boss who takes Frankie under his wing. And Mike Doyle is flamboyantly hilarious as producer Bob Crewe.
The Broadway star of Jersey Boys, John Lloyd Young, takes the lead here, and while he can reach the high notes, his character’s dull. Vincent Piazza fares better as the Four Season’s swaggering bad-boy Tommy DeVito. The women are throwaways, though, whether it’s the wives left at home or the girlfriends who revolve through the hotel rooms. In fact, it’s difficult to invest in any of the relationships here. Eastwood seems to want to shoehorn it all in—the good, the bad, and the ugly—when most of the audience is probably just there for the matching red velvet jackets and doo-wop.