Mooks make with the mu­sic

Clint East­wood’s me­an­der­ing juke­box mu­si­cal won’t be in­spir­ing Mama Mia!- level de­vo­tion, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - REVIEWS -

JERSEY BOYS

Di­rected by Clint East­wood. Star­ring John Lloyd Young, Erich Ber­gen, Michael Lomenda, Vin­cent Pi­azza, Christo­pher Walken 15A cert, 134 min

The juke­box mu­si­cal never sounded like an ob­vi­ous can­di­date for trans­la­tion to film. Rau­cous sin­ga­longs that in­vite au­di­ences to en­gage com­mu­nally, these pe­cu­liar shows are in­her­ently the­atri­cal ex­pe­ri­ences. And yet, Mamma Mia! be­came one of the break­out hits of the century. Who knows? Maybe movie au­di­ences have been yearn­ing to break into song for the last century.

Jersey Boys was al­ways go­ing to be a harder sell than the Abba film. Ev­ery­one knows a few tunes by Frankie Valli and the Four Sea­sons (Sherry, Walk Like a Man, Big Girls Don’t Cry) but, like so many acts that emerged in the years be­tween Elvis’s en­list­ment and the Bri­tish in­va­sion, the vo­cal group now seem a tad old-fash­ioned. You’re ap­peal­ing to the up­per reaches of the baby-boomer de­mo­graphic here.

Clint East­wood’s strat­egy is to de-juke­box the stage show and turn it into a more con­ven­tional rise-fal­land-rise-again rock’n’roll biopic. If this tale of Ital­ian-Amer­i­cans duck­ing and div­ing counts as a mu­si­cal, then so does Good­Fel­las.

By golly, there is some old-school, clunky film-mak­ing go­ing on here. Cher­ish the mo­ment at which, stuck for a sec­ond hit, the boys watch Kirk Dou­glas wal­lop Jan Ster­ling in Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole. Some­body sug­gests Ster­ling is about to cry. “No, big girls don’t cry!” his col­league replies. Hmm! We might have some­thing there.

This would count as the most out­ra­geous “light-bulb” mo­ment were there not a lit­eral ex­am­ple when, stuck for a name, the band catches sight of a neon sign ad­ver­tis­ing “The Four Sea­sons” bowl­ing al­ley. It’s as if Walk Hard: The

Dewey Cox Story never hap­pened. Still, you couldn’t say that Jersey Boys isn’t fun. East­wood may not have the most con­spic­u­ous au­tho­rial voice, but he’s al­ways known how to tell a cracking story. This is the one about the blue-col­lar Ital­ian kids grow­ing up in the midst of crim­i­nal­ity, who es­cape the old neigh­bour­hood through hard work and nat­u­ral talent.

Each mem­ber of quar­tet is gifted a clearly de­fined per­son­al­ity trait. Frankie (John Ll­loyd Young) is the wide-eyed dreamer. Mick Massi (Michael Lomenda) is the un­com­plain­ing pas­sen­ger. Bob Gau­dio (Erich Ber­gen) is the more cul­tured, less hide­bound song­writer. Tommy DeVito (Vin­cent Pi­azza) is the wise guy whose ne­far­i­ous deal­ings threaten to ruin the band on more than one oc­ca­sion.

Mov­ing at a pace one might de­scribe as leisurely, Jersey Boys walks us through the band’s long ap­pren­tice­ship and then speeds through the in­evitable bank­rupt­cies, and sub­stance abuse that come with pop suc­cess. “Why does mommy al­ways go to sleep on the couch af­ter drink­ing her medicine?” Frankie’s daugh­ter re­ally does ask.

It’s en­joy­able, un­de­mand­ing stuff. Christo­pher Walken has fun as the lo­cal god­fa­ther. Pi­azza grabs his op­por­tu­nity to turn Tommy into the sort of charis­matic heel that plagues ev­ery school­room.

Clint re­ally needed to try a bit harder when deal­ing with ma­te­rial that no longer has much of a nat­u­ral con­stituency. Such is the pro­lif­er­a­tion of Abba fans that Mamma Mia! only needed to be as good as it was. No hoards of Four Sea­sons ma­ni­acs are go­ing to make this mod­est en­ter­tain­ment into a hit. A shame. It’s heart is in the right place.

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