Frankie Valli’s life is the stuff that dreams are made of. A real life rags-to-riches tale that includes fame, fortune, heartbreak, great music, the mob, and Joe Pesci. So really… what’s not to like? Unfortunately, plenty. At least concerning the film version of Jersey Boys, itself adapted from the wildly successful and immensely entertaining Broadway musical of the same name. Clint Eastwood’s film spends much of its running time trying to find itself. And while the intentions of everyone involved are noble, there simply isn’t enough talent to make this film sing as loudly as it wants.
Songs in most musicals are pre-recorded in advance by the actor, which leaves very little room for emotional expression when the scene is filmed on set. Essentially, if you pre-record musical numbers, the actor has to decide their character motivations months before they actually play the character. This is one of the main reasons I have so much trouble with the musical genre, because often, there is very little emotion involved in musical numbers.
The flip side is live-recording, which is recording an actor singing on screen while a scene is being filmed. At its best, live-recording allows actors to truly be in the moment and act while singing. But the problem with this method is that the sound of the musical numbers is never as loud and clear as it should be. The volume is always a tad too low, which prohibits the film from really cranking out that bombastic number we all want. All of the musical performances in Jersey Boys were recorded live, and while the actors have impressive vocal range, the songs never hit as hard as they could. Save the film’s thrilling final performance, which was shot on a studio back lot and is by long and far the best moment of the movie.
One final note of irritation, Jersey Boys is 134 minutes long but could easily be two hours. Late in the film, we’re introduced to a random subplot involving Valli’s troubled teenage daughter. And while it’s important to note the impact that Valli’s daughter had on his life, the extended (and, again, very random) conversations about her potential as a great singer are entirely unneeded. If those scenes were cut, the film could’ve moved briskly through its weighty third act.
Now for some good news. One of the originating Four Seasons, a bad boy named Tommy DeVito, is played here with fiery gusto by Vincent Piazza. Piazza is the only relative known film/TV actor of the main four characters (he’s thrilling as Lucky Luciano on Boardwalk Empire), and his experience really shows in Jersey Boys. DeVito is an unlikeable character that Piazza embraces wholeheartedly, nearly outshining the likes of Christopher Walken, who is great as local hood, Gyp DeCarlo. (There’s also a nice meta performance from Joseph Russo, who as a young Joe Pesci says things like “Funny how?” and “Okay, okay, okay,” in natural conversation).
This review reads like I have a strong distaste for Jersey Boys, but that honestly isn’t the case. Most of my qualms with the film could’ve been resolved with minor adjustments, and it’s a shame to see the potential greatness brewing just underneath the surface. While the movie felt long, I was never fully bored, and, all told, I’m glad I saw it. If its final musical number is any evidence, everyone in this film really did give it their all, but perhaps their all wasn’t enough to match the story at hand. C
You May Also Like