Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"Jersey Boys": Sure Ain't Like The Good Ol' Days

Now Available On DVD and Blu-Ray

I generally write these reviews immediately after watching the film, so that my impressions are fresh and my feelings aren’t clouded by the passage of time.  And after watching Jersey Boys, only one feeling comes to mind: exhaustion.  Jersey Boys is a marathon of a film, obligatorily moving from plot point to plot point in the lives and times of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, from their humble, slightly nefarious beginnings, to their meteoric rise to fame, to the events that drove the group apart, and finally to Frankie Valli’s struggling solo career.  To a fan of The Four Seasons, I’m sure this is just a gold mine of fascinating performances that provide real insight into the band’s amazing story.  For the rest of us… Well, I can certainly think of better ways to spend two hours.

The film starts off strong enough, establishing Valli as a down-on-his-luck kid growing up in New Jersey who, through the help of a seedy mentor named Tommy DiVito, comes to join a band called The Four Lovers.  The band struggles for a few years, playing dives and small stages, until songwriter Bob Gaudio joins the group and the band starts producing hits under the new name The Four Seasons.  Until this point, the film has a period-piece feel to it, emphasizing the 1950s atmosphere and probably making more than a few grandparents nostalgic for the good ol’ days.  This is a Clint Eastwood film, after all.

However, the film makes a notable shift in tone once the band becomes famous.  It starts montaging through the group’s greatest hits, and suddenly we’re seeing the life and times of a partying group of successful musicians.  We see Frankie Valli’s home life fall apart due to his perpetually prolonged absences, creating a conflict that, while nothing we haven’t seen before in this genre, is still sympathetic.  This is all well and good, but then the film stops and drops a bombshell on us, telling us that it hasn’t all been paradise.

The film then rewinds itself two years into the past, and starts portraying events that lead up to the band eventually breaking up in the events shortly after the bombshell event.  Now, if this had served a narrative purpose other than showing two completely different sets of events with thematic similarities, I would have been on board.  If, for example, the film had deigned to reframe certain events so that we were shown how the film had misdirected the audience into thinking everything was swell, that would have been fine.  But to show a parallel narrative after a key turning point in order to show that point’s significance is just lazy writing.

The remaining half hour of the film dwells on Frankie Valli’s post-Seasons career, working hard to support his family and finally be there for his daughter.  His redemption arc in the eyes of his daughter falls more than a bit flat because up until this point, she hasn’t been a relevant character, and so it’s impossible to care about her or her feelings for her father.  Instead, we’re supposed to take on faith that Valli is trying his best to reconnect with the teenager, but the focus is so much on Valli’s effort that we never see the pay-off of whether he actually succeeded.

The film’s epilogue is over-long to the point where I was pacing my living room just waiting for the damn thing to end.  I wasn’t emotionally invested in the characters, who had seemed to somehow become more two-dimensional as the film went on, and I just didn’t care about the history lesson about a band I’m only marginally familiar with.  Maybe this film just wasn’t for me, but I somehow get the feeling that the intended audience for this film is people who may just be trying to catch a glimpse of times long past.  I can’t begrudge that, but for the rest of us, this film will likely be forgotten by history.

The Four Seasons.  Discuss or something in the comments below.

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