Frankie Valli’s monologue at the end of Jersey Boys sums it up best: “Four guys under a street lamp, when it was all still ahead of us, the first time we made that sound—our sound. When everything dropped away, and all there was was the music. That was the best.” This is a celebration of music that made rock and roll history. The lives of the members of The Four Seasons are secondary because it’s all been done before. What is unique is their music. This is where the story is and Clint Eastwood doesn’t get it.
It’s the film’s structure that truly lets it down. While there had to be some adjustments to adapt the Broadway show for the screen, the bare bones were solid and should have been left alone. On stage, the show was driven by the energy of the musical numbers. The film replaces this with extended narrative segments, fleshing out the details of the band members’ lives and relegating the music to second-class citizen. The problem is that these details are intrusive, taking away from what made The Four Seasons great. It reduces them from musical icons to unextraordinary petty criminals with ties to the mob who just happened to have some musical talent. The breaking of the fourth wall to provide narrative context to the songs that was so effective on stage just doesn’t work on film. There is also the glaring omission of Frankie Valli’s take on the story. While the other three band members are given a chance to address the camera directly, Valli’s story is told entirely through the outside third party of the director, even though the entire final third of the film is devoted to his solo career. He deserves his say, especially since John Llyod Young, who originated the role on Broadway, is so good. He, along with the women (Renee Marino and Lacey Hannan who do a lot with minimal screen time) are the reason to watch this film. All of them inject some much-needed life into a film that was DOA.
It’s not until the ending credits sequence that Jersey Boys manages to find its footing and it’s two hours too late. The last five minutes are everything that a musical should be, as the entire cast takes to the streets, dancing to “Oh What a Night.” (The wrong choice of song, but by this point so little has been done right, why should this be an exception?) The screen comes to life and the joy of the performance comes through as the actors get to let it go and chase the music. This is something that Llyod Young managed to hint at in the musical numbers throughout the film, but finally the other actors get to join him in the celebration of these rock and roll legends’ music. It’s just too little too late.