I am not a fan of “juke box” musicals. I enjoyed Mamma Mia for what it was. When it opened it was a new phenomenon. Twyla Tharp’s choreography made Movin’ Out worth seeing, once. But the trend of slapping an ever so thin plot on the Greatest Hits of every past-their-prime performer or genre and calling it musical theater is kind of insulting. Elvis, Sinatra, Queen; they’ve all had their turns. It’s not that there is anything wrong with shows like Rock of Ages. But I could have the same entertainment experience by listening to K-tel’s “Greatest Power Ballads of the 80’s” while reading a “See Dick Run” book and save myself the $100 ticket price. With that thought process in mind, I never made it a priority to see Jersey Boys on stage. After seeing Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation I might reconsider. Maybe there is enough story here to make it interesting.
The movie is very enjoyable. Harper’s Other Dad (who hasn’t seen the stage musical either) and I went with a friend who is a fan of the musical. He’s seen it twice. It is telling that our friend liked the movie much less than we did. Eastwood’s film is more of a biopic with music. Our friend observed there was less music in the movie. Maybe it just seemed like less music because of the format.
I don’t know how accurate the screenplay is to the facts of the rise, and subsequent decline, of the four boys from New Jersey who became the Four Seasons. Frankie Valli is an executive producer of the film so I imagine it is relatively close to the way he remembers things.
The movie looks terrific with costumes and settings that evoke the period. It sounds great with liberal use of the Four Seasons’ song book. I loved the performance sections. I’d forgotten the performance style of the time. Groups no long employ choreographed hand gestures and synchronized bows. It is dated and ‘stagey’ and thoroughly appropriate.
I liked the choice to have the members of the group step out of the action and speak to the audience. The narration adds depth to the story because it allows the characters to tell us what they were thinking. It is a form of soliloquy which leads to my only real criticism of the film. The tag line in the marketing of the movie is; “Everyone remembers it how they need to.”. Actually there is seldom any suggestion that the members of the group might have differing perspectives. They’re sharing a common memory. It is unusual that four people would remember shared experiences exactly the same way and, at times, that seems a little trite. There are no unanswered questions. One does not leave wondering who’s version of events is closer to the truth.
There is a finale as the credits roll that mirrors the stage show. The characters all return and sing along in a final celebration of the music. Our friend who’d seen it on stage told me it was very much like the curtain call. He didn’t really need to say that. It is exactly like that curtain call, concert, sing along moment that has become a mainstay of the ‘juke box’ genre. There is nothing wrong with that. It is a ‘feel good’ moment to send the audience out the door with a smile on its face and the soundtrack firmly planted top-of-mind.
My gut tells me the movie will be more fun for people who have not seen (or at least not loved) the musical on stage. It might suffer by comparison to the stage experience. For people like me who have not seen it on stage it is a well-told, if predictable, story from the not so distant past. I liked it.