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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Jersey Boys is good, but Mike Doyle and Christopher Walken are great

I must confess that when I initially heard that Clint Eastwood was going to direct a film version of the Tony Award-winning musical, Jersey Boys, I had some serious doubts. It's been 45 years since he sang to the trees in the 1969 movie musical, Paint Your Wagon, so I just didn't see "Dirty Harry" as the one to bring the story of The Four Seasons to cinematic life. But the man has won two Oscars for Best Director (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby), which made me attend last night's preview screening with a "wait and see" attitude. And I am happy to report that I enjoyed the film. It's entertaining with some great performances and a lot of groovy music - if you're a fan of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons as I am.

As for the performances, the four leads are perfectly cast - newcomer Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi, Vincent Piazza (Boardwalk Empire) as Tommy DeVito,, Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio (and as Tea Leoni's assistant in the new CBS series, Madam Secretary), and John Lloyd Young, who reprises his Tony Award-winning role of Frankie Valli. However, two supporting actors steal every scene that they appear in - Mike Doyle (whom many of my readers may remember from the 2012 LGBT film, Gayby) and the always wonderful Christopher Walken. The handsome Mr. Doyle plays the flamboyantly gay Bob Crewe, who produced and co-wrote many of The Four Seasons' hits, including "Sherry", "Big Girls Don't Cry", "Rag Doll" and "Walk Like a Man". As for Mr. Walken, he shows up as mobster Gyp DeCarlo, who was a helpful friend to Frankie Valli. With their small but important roles, both Doyle and Walken provide some welcome comic relief in the midst of all the drama.

Unlike the talented cast, the film isn't perfect. It's too long at 134 minutes - especially at the beginning when you're just waiting for all four guys to finally get together and start singing. And there are some lazy details that could have easily been avoided with more thorough research - like the fact that the Ohio State Fair hasn't been held in Cleveland since 1863. Also, the movie does seem to focus more on the story than the music - unlike the Broadway show - but there are still plenty of familiar songs to sing along with. I had a good time with the Jersey Boys, and I think you will, too.

Jersey Boys opens in theaters on Friday, June 20.

My Grade: B


Christoph said...

I am also of the wait and see approach with this largely because of Eastwood. I really find the films he directs to more often than not be tedious and overrated. I thought Unforgiven was overlong, overpopulated with characters and overwrought - plus McCabe and Mrs. Miller did that revisionist elegiac western thing so much better decades before. I never saw Million Dollar Baby, but I did see The Bridges of Madison County which had the typically great perf from La Streep and a wonderful opening half, before screeching to a halt and collapsing in on itself. And do not get me started on what he did with Absolute Power and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Even his better efforts seem to be overlong slogs - which makes me leery of his adaptation of Jersey Boys, which was a great fun show that was anything but boring.

On a side note, I always remember a critic writing in the 1990s describing Eastwood's direction as "torpid" and comically envisioning that his next must-see, critically acclaimed effort would be a 4-hour epic about an elderly man standing in a front door internally wrestling with whether he should open the screen and exit the house or go back inside, and that the rip-snorting climax would be that the guys sighs and goes back inside. Too funny!

Marc Harshbarger said...

I'm definitely not a big fan of Clint Eastwood - as an actor or as a director. I've only seen three of his films that he's directed - Play Misty for Me (which I enjoyed because of Jessica Walter's performance), Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (which I found very disappointing), and Mystic River (which I did like). So I was pleasantly surprised by Jersey Boys, which is entertaining because of the performances and, of course, the music.