Tuesday, June 24, 2014
However, I would think that one of the easiest musicals to film would be JERSEY BOYS. The story is set in a real time and place, the structure is solid, the characters are well defined, and the songs they sing are actual songs a group would sing. It’s not Idina Menzel sitting on a subway suddenly belting out “Let It Go” for no reason.
And then there’s the music itself. The songs of the Four Seasons, especially for baby boomers, is as close to bulletproof as you can find.
So it would take a real effort to screw up a movie version of JERSEY BOYS.
Enter Clint Eastwood.
Somehow Clint managed to do to JERSEY BOYS what Dirty Harry did to the Zodiac Killer.
And even though I’ve admired much of his work in the past, I can’t imagine a worse creative choice than Clint Eastwood to direct this movie. Forget that he’s a staunch Republican supporting candidates who are trying to cut funding for arts programs (thanks to Tallulah M. for that observation even though I’m now in for a flood of hate comments), he just has no feel for the genre, the era, the music, or Italians.
What’s next? Eli Roth (of HOSTEL fame) adapting the Carole King musical? Oliver Stone doing BOOK OF MORMON? Michael Bay bringing LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA to the silver screen?
But let’s get to JERSEY BOYS. First, I should say it’s one of the best Broadway musicals I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen it many times. It’s my “WICKED.” I was really looking forward to this.
The tone was all over the place. Sometimes realistic and other times the characters would randomly talk to the screen. Clint almost seemed embarrassed to be directing a musical. I suspect he was permanently traumatized by starring in PAINT YOUR WAGON.
So again? Then why do it? Would you get Sam Peckinpah to direct GIGI?
On the stage, when the Four Seasons finally break through with “Sherry” the musical really takes off. It soars the rest of the way. The movie is endlessly plodding. Now you could say, why blame the Republican? Why not blame the writers if the musical was so much better than the movie? The same writers (Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice) did both. Obviously they weren’t driving the creative train. They didn't cast it. They didn't determine the look or the pace. They didn't edit it.
On the other hand, there’s John Lloyd Young. He originated the role of Frankie Valli and was the toast of Broadway. Tonys and good tables at Sardi’s followed. But acting in a musical, like everything else in a musical is very stylized. Your character might be asked to whisper and you still will have to yell it to the back row. Unless you’re Nathan Lane, real people don’t act that way. And the movie camera is intimate. The acting has to be natural. Tiny facial expressions are sometimes enough to convey entire emotions. And the sad cruel truth is that the camera just seems to love certain people and not love others. It loves Hugh Jackman; it doesn’t love Ryan Reynolds. It loves Anne Hathaway; is real meh about Amanda Seyfried. (And it has no idea what to think about Helena Bonham Carter.) There’s a presence, an X-Factor, just something special required to carry a major motion picture. And John Lloyd Young tries hard but just doesn’t have it. I give Clint props for going with unknowns – that’s how you discover the next Christoph Waltz – but Young belongs on the stage where he thrives.
Yet, he was Brando compared to Vincent Piazzza who played group member, Tommy DeVito. His “dem’s and doe’s” portrayal of a Jersey Italian wiseguy was beyond sketch. Has Clint ever seen a Martin Scorsese movie, because there are ways to play these gunsels without resorting to character assassination. Mel Brooks made Nazis look more credible. Fo-getta-bout-it!
There is, to be fair, one great section of this movie. A terrific street dance production number. Unfortunately, and this is all you need to know about the movie, it’s during the closing credits. So instead of paying to see JERSEY BOYS, wait for a road company stage version to come rolling through your town, and when the flick inevitably goes to HBO and in-flight entertainment (I'm guessing the 4th of July), catch the last five minutes. As a movie it’s a flop; as a music video it’s a pick-to-click.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM