Why the Adaptation of the Hit Tony Award Winning Musical Failed On So Many Levels
This past weekend, director Clint Eastwood’s version of the hit Broadway musical “Jersey Boys” finally made it to the big screen and if you read the reviews and looked at the disappointing weekend returns many have been taken aback on why the film resonates with audiences. I have to admit I am a Jersey Boys fan for life. I have seen it twice in San Francisco, once when they launched their national tour and Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio were in the audience themselves to approve. And a second time to commemorate the show being so successful that the producers had to send the original cast on the aforementioned national tour and they hired a whole new staff and ha them perform a hugely publicized tour as well. I also saw the musical on Broadway at the August Wilson Theatre and like in San Francisco I was tapping my feet to “Oh What a Night” at the encore at the end of the two act play. So obviously I got really excited when I heard that none other than Clint Eastwood himself had been approached to direct the film version of Jersey Boys after many years of wrangling between directors, producer, and writers over the script and direction. Imagine my disappointment over what I thought had been a great stage musical and the makings of a great film musical turn out so disappointing, and judging by the first weekend box office receipts I wasn’t the only one who thought the film was lacking in a number of ways that made the film lackluster. So without further ado, here’s why Jersey Boys didn’t work for me:
Story Comes First
One thing it is hard to adapt a musical to the big screen no matter how many have succeeded with audiences before for every Chicago or Les Miserables there’s been failures like Rock of Ages and The Producers. So why did the Jersey Boys musical feel so stale? For one thing although the screenplay was written by the same two individuals (Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice) who won a Tony® nomination for writing the book of the play, the film version of Jersey Boys looked and sounded virtually the same. And that’s not a good thing. The main caveats for the movie and the play is that it is told in first person by all four members of the musical group The Four Seasons during different times of the groups accession. As Tommy DeVito, actor Vincent Piazza explains how the group was formed in their native New Jersey. Then Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) joins the group and tells the tale of how the group made it big thanks to his keen songwriting abilities. Then division and rifts happen between members of the group and that’s where Michael Lomenda’s Nick Massi takes over. Finally heading out on a solo career once the band has called it quits, John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony® Award for the role on Broadway takes over narration as leading man Frankie Valli. The problem here is that the audience never grows with the characters as they tell their story. We never get to realize how far and how big The Four Seasons truly became and how their music defined them and their fans. For all we know the group was playing state fairs and small clubs because on film that’s all we saw them sang. Also, we never get the inventive “Seasons” part of the play. Every act is supposed to represent the seasons in a year. If the film was going to borrow so liberally from the musical I question why was this aspect dropped? As we see how things are done the Jersey way through loyalty and ties with the mob, we see how members of the group became so indebted to members of the mafia. One mob boss in particular, played by Christopher Walken is actually a much bigger role here than in the play. I can see why Walken was given a bigger role, he was after all the most noteworthy member of the cast, but his role had very little to do with the formation of the group and how they kept the hits rolling. Finally, there was odd placement of both storyline being told on a linear and non-linear timeline, which made things truly confusing, this was in addition to songs being sung by Valli to give meaning to the storyline but not making sense when you actually hear the lyrics of the songs. (see: “My Eyes Adore You” being randomly sung to Valli’s daughter).
Of His Element This Time Around?
The second thing that was problematic was Mr. Eastwood’s involvement with the film to begin with. He is a phenomenal director with two Best Director Academy® Awards to his credit and it should have showcased his talents as an auteur, but this movie version of the play comes up surprisingly flat. Granted, Mr. Eastwood had done a biopic on a musician before (Bird in 1988) but this was his first mainstream musical. The problem was this was more of a concert musical where the characters sing their songs in a more natural manner like when they are pitching a new song or singing on a concert stage so it really shouldn’t have been as challenging to direct traditional concert moments. There were no huge song and dance numbers that required huge casts and choreography. Until that is, the very end of the movie when Eastwood films the show’s encore of “Oh What a Night” and it becomes one of the most awkward last scenes I have seen in quite some time. That fact alone proves to me that Eastwood should never lens another movie musical again if it winds up like the end of Jersey Boys. Then there’s Eastwood’s decision to cast Young as Valli to begin with. I thought Young’s voice was amazing and the fact that he’s still touring with Jersey Boys after all these years is nothing but remarkable. But there in lies the problem, Young looks way too old to play a sixteen year old in some scenes and with the poorest makeup job I’ve seen in quite some time, Young as Valli at 60 years of age does not look any more realistic. This fact combined with some of the most unrealistic driving scenes I’ve seen on film this century make the film story come across as a more banal experience than magnum opus.
Finally there was the remarkably odd release schedule of the film in general. If this film really had awards potential in it, then the producers and studio should have at very least waited until the fall to release this movie. Why in the middle of popcorn action films and comedies is this film being release it in June? Maybe producers thought it would be good counterprogramming to all of that madness at the box office. But this film had to be considered a flawless adaptation in order to play with some the biggest movies of the year, and Jersey Boys in this incarnation just isn’t it. Had producers waited until say late September early October maybe the film could have been a late bloomer with less competition. Granted movie musicals can be considered a pricey investment and this one was no exception (rumor has the cost at more than 40 million) so making a profit from this play was going to be a challenge no matter what month you released it.
The Bottom Line
Although I don’t agree with the Daily Beast’s Andrew Romano in his saying that Clint Eastwood is the most overrated director in Hollywood. I do feel that Entertainment Weekly’s Jake Perlman was more succinct in suggesting that Eastwood was all wrong for this particular adaption. Romano suggested that Martin Scorsese would have done wonders and Perlman suggests Adam Shankman. I actually think a fresh voice would have been more appropriate for this movie. From the director to the screenwriters to some of the actors. I would have recommended everyone involved in the adaptation still see the stage play to get a feeling for the musical and chose wisely in what direction in which they want to frame the story of how Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons came to be. I actually think there is a poignant and fun and unique story to share with the musical genre loving world out there. I’m just not sure the one we got last weekend is the one we all deserved to see. If that’s possible one day, then we’ll all be singing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” when we see a better version of this movie. As lovers of both musicals and movies, we can all still dream can’t we?