[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=that film guy&asin=B00J9C06F4][/pullquote] Adapted from the stage musical of the same name, Jersey Boys tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons – how they got together, became famous, and eventually fell out with each other. You know how this story goes: egos clash, creative differences happen, and in this case, the band gets into deep debt with the Mob. Is it a bit predictable? Sure. But it’s a whole lot better than you’ve probably heard.
It’s not a great film by any stretch, but it is a good one. It’s made barely any impression at the box office and not been much of a hit with critics, but it doesn’t really deserve all the flak it’s been catching. The main problem is that the key target demographic is doubtless fans of the wildly popular and successful stage show, and Jersey Boys the film isn’t really a musical.
There are plenty of songs in there, and practically all of them are classics from the Four Seasons’ back catalogue, but the only time the film breaks out into an unabashed all-singing all-dancing musical number is during the closing credits. It plays out much more like a music biopic than an actual musical, and the slightly odd lack of focus on the performances may well be what put a lot of people off.
It lacks the exuberance and enthusiasm of the stage version: between the lack of emphasis on the music, the muted colour palette and the generally serious tone, it doesn’t capture the sense of simple fun that one generally expects of a jukebox musical. No doubt this is because the story of the Four Seasons is frequently an unhappy one, between disintegrating families, loan sharks and the band growing to hate each other. It’s a very different beast from the show, and while that isn’t a problem in itself, it’s hard to disagree that the show succeeds at what it’s trying to be better than the film does.
And yet, this is a good film. It hits all the expected notes of the music biopic, but it’s still an interesting story in spite of how familiar it all feels. The performances are all strong, and Mike Doyle is particularly good as the band’s flamboyant producer, earning a lot of laughs without straying too far into gay stereotype. Christopher Walken shows up every now and then to be Christopher Walken, and it’s a rare film which can’t be improved by the addition of Christopher Walken. While the tone is generally fairly sombre, there are more than a few comedic moments, including a very funny GoodFellas gag – Joe Pesci knew the band when they were starting out.
While it would have undeniably benefited from being more of a musical and putting on a song and dance a bit more often, there are still some great tunes here. As mentioned above, almost every song is a classic, from Sherrybaby to Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, and the central quartet are great singers. John Lloyd Young, playing Frankie himself, imitates his extraordinary falsetto extremely well, and you can tell he’s had a lot of practice playing this role on stage.
That said, certain later scenes do become slightly hard to take seriously when Erich Bergen gets slapped with a very unfortunate goatee and wig combo, which makes him look unsettlingly like Hobo Alan Partridge.