How many synonyms are there for the word “lifeless?”
That’s the only word to describe Jersey Boys, but for descriptions sake there need to be more. Based on the smash hit Broadway musical, the film follows the development and dissolution of the Four Seasons, a band that, somehow, was popular in the ’60s. The movie is narrated by each in turn — Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), a thug who wants to earn a fortune with a calculated attempt at music; Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), a songwriting genius who makes the band popular; Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), an extra person so the band has four; and Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young), a singer more nasal than a sinus infection.
They grow popular… somehow, I mean they’re just terrible, and then fall apart because of DeVito’s severe behavioral and gambling problems.
Inert, empty, extinct, dead…
This movie has literally and figuratively taken the music out of a musical. There aren’t any real, extended musical numbers until the third act, and throughout the entire film there’s only one or two that aren’t just scenes of the band performing. Jersey Boys is a jukebox musical with multiple narrators. The opportunity to be snazzy and creative is endless, particularly in film format. But there is no snazz or creativity here. Just a by-the-book, scene-to-scene, shot-reverse-shot, so-boring-it-almost-mutes-the-colors sleep-inducing train wreck.
Eventually, they do start caterwauling, meaning this movie won’t even work as background noise for a nap.
Sterile, barren, comatose, deceased, defunct…
Who is the audience supposed to sympathize with here? It could be meant to sympathize with everyone, and with the fistful of narrators that’s practical. But so, so, so much is skimped on. As early as the opening sequence, the audience isn’t prepared for what’s going to happen in the scene — while the musical opens with a modern hit that DeVito explains is derived from The Four Seasons’ work and then launches into the band’s story, the film just fades in to him saying, “If you want the real story, I’m the one you gotta talk to.” The real story of what?!
The film continues on with its characters having powerful emotional experiences but never transferring them to the audience. Valli does the two-scene marriage dance — one scene where they meet, one scene years later where they break up, and the audience is supposed to care about this apparent one-night stand — twice. His daughter dies. Who cares? She had about as much screen time as her mother. Massi only has one big scene, and it’s when he throws a tantrum over not having any other big scenes. Watching the film is less like going through a roller coaster with these characters and more like moderating a group therapy session.
Inorganic, uninhabited, exanimate…
The script isn’t the problem. The script is a Tony Award Winning musical that’s been in production since 2005 solid. The director is the problem.
This may be sacrilege, but Clint Eastwood needs to stop directing. He’s not good at it anymore. He’s one of a rare few with the ability to direct himself well, and when he does the results are what you’d expect from Clint Eastwood. The only times he’s directed himself over the past 10 years, Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino, attest to this.
But over the same timespan, the films he’s directed but not appeared in have been in a steady decline. Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima and Changeling received critical acclaim, but they were followed up by luke-warm Invictus, irredeemable snoozefest Hereafter, the good but unapproachable J. Edgar and now this turd. When he’s bad, he’s extremely boring, and when he’s good he’s still hard to pay attention to.
Maybe he’s got a few more good directorial efforts in him, but when you take something from stage to screen and the settings actually get less inventive, you’ve got a serious problem.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and a senior staff writer for the NT Daily. Dull, tedious, drab… For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for.