In 1988, Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards attended the Winter Olympics as the sole representative of the Great Britain ski jumping team. Facing active discouragement from his nation’s Olympic committee, Edwards was forced to self-fund the journey that led him to the Calgary-held Olympics, mounting his campaign on sheer determination and grit rather than skill or, you know, practice. His name became synonymous with perseverance, his bumbling visage a representation of that sportsman mantra of being the best that you can be. Read More
Clint Eastwood‘s latest biopic, Jersey Boys, paints Frankie Valli as some sort of falsetto-ing saint – an absentee father, yes, but a take-it-on-the-chin, bootstraps machismo with the voice of an angel and a bleeding heart for his down on their luck, criminally-inclined best buddies. And though the man has a range that reaches into the high soprano section like a eunuch in a Roman cathedral, this cloyingly old-fashion, family friendly biography follows the familiar conceit of rise-fall-rise that we’ve seen in many biopics of pop stars past. No matter how many high notes Valli hits and how hard the familiar musical numbers pop, it’s a tedious and long-winded encounter that fails to deviate from the course of previous entries into the genre.
Based on the Tony-Award winning jukebox musical of the same name, Jersey Boys sees a young Valli transform from a mop boy into a certifiable All Star and the many bumps in the road along the way. Now if you can only ignore the fact that the story begins with a 16-year old Frankie Valli (born Francesco Castelluccio, but I don’t think we have to get into why he slimmed down that clunker) being portrayed by a 38-year old, grown ass man (John Lloyd Young) then you’re probably off to a pretty good start.
The film begins amicably enough with a light-hearted heist-gone-wrong, window-dressed with an amusing visual gag and narrated in fourth-wall breaking virility by a slick-backed and vain Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza). In media res, DeVito retrospects on how Valli was essentially his creation and of course, he has the tale to convince us. Christopher Walken stops by as mob boss-lite Gyp DeCarlo and sheds some quick, unearned tears over Valli’s warbling descant. Keep up your exercises, he cautions, you’re gonna be a star some day.
Bing, bang, boom, lo and behold Castelluccio becomes Valli and The Four Lovers become The Four Seasons and start churning out poppy top charters like hot cakes at a Sunday morning Dennys. Still, no matter how many bitter berries are spread throughout the lives of Valli and his compatriots, the story still deals with their lives in a syrupy, surface-level manner. I will credit Jersey Boys for giving me a new found appreciation for Valli and The Four Seasons but I wouldn’t say that I actually understanding how these people operate.
The fact that none of the cast is particularly stirring doesn’t make it any better. There’s nothing especially poor about the performances that pepper the film so much as there’s hardly anything in them worthy of note. Considering that Young received an acting Tony for the very same performance on Broadway speaks largely to the contrast between what works on stage and on screen, as his Valli never feels like a living, breathing character so much as a stage version of a character. That’s not to say his portrayal of the pop icon is to blame for the shortcomings of the film as Eastwood’s troubled hand adapting it from one forum to another is the real issue at stake. Even during the high points (which surprisingly enough came during the songs for me), it’s easy to spot some janky lip-singing and the musical numbers reach a stasis when they drag on for too long or hit one right after another.
With all the high-pitched crooning and retro set pieces and costumery, Jersey Boys just feels like a dated effort, an breezy, over-the-plate adaptation of already beloved source material that fails to bring anything new to the table. Fault Eastwood’s more recent tendency to miss the forest for the trees or his inexplicable need to put young actors in old people’s makeup. To quote Murtaugh, I think he’s getting too old for this shit. As it stands, Jersey Boys is probably exactly the entertainment your grandma is looking for but may prove tiring for all once it snails over the two hour mark.