I can imagine that the stage musical version of Jersey Boys, the story of The Four Seasons (or Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, though to me it is like saying Diana Ross & The Supremes while I insist on calling them just The Supremes, but I digress) must have been fun. This 'jukebox musical' where we see the performances of some really great songs would have, on stage, a lot of life, movement, joy, some tragedy, and forgivable breaking of the fourth wall (where the four boys speak to us). We get a little hint of that at the end of Jersey Boys, where we have a small 'greatest hit' montage where The Four Seasons, along with all the characters we've seen, join in to sing and dance such songs as Sherry and December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night).
The songs are great...the movie's a mess.
Starting in Bellville, Joysey (to keep with the distinct accent) in 1951, we get on-camera narration by three of the Four Seasons. Most of this is done by Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), the cocky one who is friends with Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young), a barber's assistant who has a beautiful falsetto. Tommy wants to make it by hook or crook (which is what he is, a crook), but eventually they form a group, adding Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), a songwriter who has a hit with Short Shorts (a catchy song too). They are brought together by none other than Joe Pesci (Joey Russo).
And yes, THAT Joe Pesci.
Well, it's off and running as The Lovers/The Romans (they have a lot of names) and finally The Four Seasons start off on the road to fame, helped by 'flamboyant' stereotype...I mean, producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle). We get great songs and more fourth-wall breaking by Gaudio and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) talking to us about how The Four Seasons rose and fell, thanks in large part to Tommy's arrogance and wasteful money management. Frankie takes all of Tommy's debts, and Nick (who has tolerated rooming with Tommy for ten years) ups and walks. Despite having help from Gyp DiCarlo (Christopher Walken), local mob boss who likes Frankie, our lead keeps on singing for his supper, which puts a strain on his marriage to drunk Mary (Renee Martino), his mistress Lorraine (Erica Piccinnini) and his daughter Francine, who eventually takes her own life.
At the end, we go to 1990 and their induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, where we hear one last time from them all (even Valli, who until now had never addressed us directly).
Again, who can argue with the music of The Four Seasons? They really had a great sound (helped especially by Valli's amazing falsetto). That we still love them long after their heyday is a sign of their catalog's staying power. However, in order to enjoy Jersey Boys, one had to forgive a lot of things.
For example, the fact that the Four Seasons are considerably too old to be believable (Young for example, recreating his Tony-winning performance as Valli, just turned 39 and trying to pass him off as a twenty-something looks a bit off). As a digression, director Clint Eastwood really out to take his rifle and shoot his make-up crew. This is the second time (after the appalling J. Edgar) where the old-age make-up looks horrifying and unconvincing.
Another aspect that just didn't work was the breaking of the fourth wall (where the characters speak directly to us). This again I figure is a throwback to the original stage show, but not only is it distracting in the efforts to have some kind of Rashomon narrating, but one wonders why, given Valli's central role, was Valli the only one not to speak to us until the very end of the film. Further mudding matters, Nick's narration begins when they're performing on The Ed Sullivan Show, then we have a flashback to show Tommy is irresponsible with money, and then BACK to The Ed Sullivan Show.
This cracked structure of the story makes the already irritating direct speaking to us all the more jarring and nutty. I could never shake the sense that Eastwood and screenwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elise (adapting their own stage work) were simply too enslaved in trying to capture the structure of Jersey Boys: The Musical to Jersey Boys (the movie).
Even worse, moments that are suppose to be intense and dramatic come off as unintentionally hilarious. The scene where the band breaks up over Tommy's money mismanagement had the audience laughing (perhaps when Nick kept going on about Tommy's use of towels wasn't as moving as intended), and the scenes where Maria came off as a parody of a drunk had the similar effect.
Her appearance only made things worse because she was thrown in only to make things 'dramatic' but Martino's performance just came off as comedy. Furthermore, it adds the question as to how we jumped from this cocky, self-assured woman (who told Frankie to make "Valli" with an "I" not a "Y" like he intended) turned into this boozing broad. I guess it was to show the strain of Valli's long road tours and raising their daughters alone, but given we don't see her or Francine all that much (only when Jersey Boys needs 'drama') both Maria's alcoholism and the effect it has on everyone falls flat (or at least comical).
Part of me is still disturbed by Doyle's performance of Crewe as this camp gay man. Maybe it was close to how the real Bob Crewe was, but it still doesn't make it more palatable. If it weren't for the fact that it's historic, it might come off almost as homophobic.
I hated the shifting on-camera narration and the unintentionally funny dramatic moments. I'll give credit to the actors who played the Four Seasons (even if they did look too old to be completely convincing). The musical numbers were weakly staged with no sense of joy and fun (apart from the last number). The movie just dragged and was lifeless (which the musical, given its wild popularity) probably doesn't.
I think modern musicals just don't translate to film. The Producers was a wildly, WILDLY popular stage show which bombed at the box office. Jersey Boys, a similarly wildly popular stage show, appears to have met the same fate.
In the end, you might just be suited to buy the soundtrack, because the movie version of Jersey Boys really does a disservice to both the musical version and The Four Seasons themselves. Sorry, Jersey Boys...I CAN take my eyes off you.