Caveat is that I am very sensitive and avoid movies with violence, slapstick and suspense. That rules out most films except romantic comedies, but with “Jersey Boys” I thought I’d found something. At least I’d have that nostalgic Four Seasons music, a warm-fuzzy sound from my childhood. I even own some 45s from back in the day, including “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” (If you don’t know what a “45” is, ask your grandma.)
I’d never seen the Tony Award-winning stage hit, and Clint Eastwood, (who I like and remember fondly from his Republican Convention “empty chair” address) as director of this picture was a big draw. I was humming “Shair–eeee, Sherrie bay-by!” entering the theater.
Well, the movie’s not a showcase for a bunch of great music, the way “Mama Mia!” creates a plot around Abba’s tunes. It’s got the music, though it surrounds the plot rather than the plot linking the songs. “Jersey Boys” is a drama, and in many ways a tragedy.
Its message is that Jersey creates failure. Everyone in this film, which flows flawlessly through the 1950s the ’80s and beyond, wants to leave the neighborhood, where petty crime, mob connections, bleak employment prospects and abusive relationships reign. With narration that distractingly pops into scenes by characters otherwise engaged in the action, we learn that friends rotate in and out of prison, scam each other and say family’s important while screwing around and withdrawing.
Yes, we root for Frankie Valli, played well by John Lloyd Young, but he never even tastes success, autograph seekers and swooning fans notwithstanding. The others in the group–other than Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) who’s an active low-life–seem passively pulled along in the current. There’s no up moment; every scene is tinged with the grime of deception and cheating that underlies that culture, deemed “the wrong side of the tracks.”
Amazing period sets and costumes stay dull in dim light with gray colors. Even crooning the upbeat melodies in close harmonies doesn’t bring the characters any pleasure. Choreographed in sync onstage, they trample each other off.
“Everybody remembers it how they need to” is the grammatically abhorrent slogan for this movie. I want to remember the bopping and car-harmonizing to “Walk Like a Man” of my happy history–now I associate the Four Seasons with a seamy underside of life I’d rather avoid. “Jersey Boys” is a fairly good movie, but not a feel-good movie.
If you want to enjoy a Son of Jersey, I suggest you watch Gov. Chris Christie boogie with Jimmy Fallon in this Father’s Day video from The Tonight Show, “The Evolution of Dad Dancing.” He’s actually got some decent moves, and you’ll gain the grins that “Jersey Boys” omits.