Jersey Boys (Warner Bros., R)

film jersey-boys_smThe characters don’t give us a single bit of inside information; everything they tell the audience is, or will soon be, readily apparent to anyone paying attention.

 

 

 

film jersey-boys

“You have a gift,” local mobster Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken) tells a teenaged Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young) in 1951. That gift is a singing voice so pure, and a falsetto so high, that tough guy DeCarlo isn’t afraid to cry in public upon hearing it. Even when he has brushes with the law (a hilariously botched safe robbery here or a church break-in there) for which his dutiful bandmates Tommy (Vincent Piazza) and Nick (Michael Lomenda) take the rap for him, everyone holds on to the hope that, one day, little Frankie will be bigger than Sinatra.

Jersey Boys is a pretty straightforward music biopic, but with plenty of actors breaking the fourth wall, and a curious lack of the sex and drugs that typically garner R ratings for these types of films. Boobs, butts, and bongs certainly don’t make for cinematic entertainment all on their own, but it’s possible the lack of debauchery helped to ease me into my “meh” feelings about the movie. Of all the things nagging me about Jersey Boys, though, that’s just the beginning.

The Four Lovers, as their fledgling band is known around town, gain quite a following. After a show, Tommy introduces Frankie to notorious man-eater Mary (Renée Marino), who promptly schools Frankie on the subtleties of choosing a stage name. When he tells her he’s decided to use Vally as his surname, she says it should end with an ‘I’ since “‘Y’ is a bullshit letter. Plus, you’re Italian; it needs to end with a vowel.”

In the next scene, Frankie and Mary are getting hitched, and Tommy is telling us Mary devoted herself to him from then on. We’re led to believe that that she helped him cultivate the public persona people loved, but if that’s what happened, we don’t see it. In fact, we only see Mary six times in the whole movie, and most of those times she’s a difficult, drunken mess. Did the loneliness of raising three daughters while her husband was on the road drive Mary to drink? We never find out, and it feels like a waste of a character in the end.

Actually, most of the characters feel like a waste. The group picks up a new member, Bob (Erich Bergen), right before becoming The Four Seasons and signing a recording contract. I can count the things we found out about Bob on one hand: He’s a nice-guy virgin who already had a minor hit song on the radio, didn’t care about the old neighborhood, and went on to write most of their hits. Why doesn’t Bob care about the old neighborhood? Who knows? How did a nice, talented, good-looking guy manage to get into his twenties without being deflowered? We shall wonder forever, my friends.

Bob is not the greatest of the band’s ciphers. Once Tommy’s thuggish ways get the group into a financial pickle, Nick decides to quit. When DeCarlo tries to make him reconsider, he reveals that he dropped his young children off with relatives after telling them to call him uncle, so that he could fool around on his wife and not feel bad about neglecting his family. What!? What did the wife we never saw have to say about that? How did Nick get to a point where he thought that was cool? The filmmakers seem to think we can assemble those pieces on our own, but there’s a screwy depth of character such that we can’t begin to guess with how little information we have.

Tommy, Bob, and Nick trade off fourth-wall duties during the movie. I don’t have a problem with this in general, but it needs to serve an actual narrative purpose, and I can’t figure out what the purpose was here. The characters don’t give us a single bit of inside information; everything they tell the audience is, or will soon be, readily apparent to anyone paying attention. Since we don’t know much about them (Bob is nice, Tommy is a thug, Nick is…really tall), and don’t get any juicy insights from them, all their camera-talking does is muddle the point of view of the movie. The result, despite all the soul-stirring ’60s pop hits being sung and the solid performances, is a flat piece of work that doesn’t tell us enough about anyone to make the story really feel like it matters. | Adrienne Jones

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