The Tony-award winning musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons gets the cinematic treatment, in Clint Eastwood’s new mob movie with songs. Let’s call it The Sopranos.
Jersey Boys awkwardly straddles this line between crime movie and cheesy musical, with a 15 rating for strong language. Either make a grown-up musical with adult content like The Rocky Horror Picture Show or a family-friendly affair like Bugsy Malone. Don’t jump from silly song-and-dance numbers to swearing. Who are they trying to kid? No one believes for a second that this is a serious drama. Curse all you like, it doesn’t make this anything other than a corny croon-fest. That it’s migrated from the stage is obvious throughout, with over-the-top performances, minimal characterisation and those obvious jokes that theatre audiences guffaw at as though it’s the single funniest thing anyone has ever said. Mike Doyle plays the band’s producer Bob Crewe as the kind of gay stereotype that would be unacceptable were it not a stage musical.
This lack of characterisation means we’re just expected to care about the fate of the band, despite each member being more selfish and unlikeable than the last. As in the case of Frank, we only know about the frontman’s enormous talent because the other characters won’t stop going on about it. It’s hard to grasp the power of this musical breakthrough when it’s being squawked by John Lloyd Young’s Franki Valli, whose falsetto sounds like a chipmunk on helium. Last year’s Good Vibrations showed how good these real-life music movies can be, managing to capture a revolutionary sound whilst focusing on characters. This simply croons its way from one lightbulb moment to the next for more than two hours, before ending in a predictable chorus of schmaltz and appalling old-man make-up.
It’s still shorter than Les Miserables, and better too. The cast are strong, especially Christopher Walken, who lights up his disappointingly brief screen-time with his unique delivery and comic brilliance. There’s good attention to 1950s detail and some great New Jersey accents, not to mention the classic hits of The Four Seasons, including Oh What a Night, Big Girls Don’t Cry and all the other ones. Though we’d much rather watch Divine’s cover of Walk Like a Man, or even Al Pacino’s one-man Godfather musical from The Peter Serafinowicz Show. Even so, there’s enough good stuff in there to suggest that maybe it works well on stage. Maybe. But this is lost in the transition to the big screen, which gives Jersey Boys the ultra-glossy sheen of pure Hollywood fantasy. The film feels flat, which is problematic for a musical, with such a long running time that you’re more likely to leave the cinema needing a wee than singing the songs.