The film tells the story of four young men from the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey who came together to form the iconic 1960s rock group The Four Seasons. The story of their trials and triumphs are accompanied by the songs that influenced a generation, including "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," "Dawn," "Rag Doll," "Bye Bye Baby," "Who Loves You," and many more.
Before we dive into my review of 'Jersey Boys', I feel it's important to note that I have yet to see the stage musical upon which this movie is based. This is both a positive and a negative. A negative, since I have no way of giving an opinion on whether the movie lives up to the musical, but a positive in the sense that I can actually judge the movie on its own merits, without having a bias that may have creeped in had I seen the live production. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on 'Jersey Boys'.
Let's be honest. Clint Eastwood, who already owns two Oscars for Best Director and an additional two for those films winning Best Picture (as a producer), hasn't been making very good movies as of late. I still have no idea what he was trying to do with Hereafter, and J. Edgar was a pretty disappointing biopic, despite yet another strong performance by star Leonardo DiCaprio. With this in mind, after sitting through the first hour of the 134-minute 'Jersey Boys', I was beginning to think that perhaps whatever magic Eastwood had when it came to directing had perhaps faded.
However, just when I was ready to give up on Eastwood's second biopic in a row, things took a dramatic turn for the better. Let's start with that first hour though, one which may tempt many viewers to turn off their TVs and eject their disc (or erase their digital copy, if that's the route you're taking). The movie is narrated by the members of the group, each getting a quarter of the movie, and each talking directly to the camera telling about their experience. Things star off with Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), whom we'll soon learn is the most troubled of the four, as well as the most 'mobbed-up'.
Tommy has a close association with mobster Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken), but Gyp is really impressed with Tommy's friend, Frankie (John Lloyd Young), who has a great falsetto voice that can even move the rough and tough DeCarlo to tears. Tommy decides to add Frankie to his band as the lead singer, which also includes Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), another one of their friends. It's not until the group gets introduced (by Joe Pesci…yes, that Joe Pesci, played here by Joseph Russo) to singer/songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) that things really start to take off for the group, starting by impressing New York producer Bob Crewe (a great performance by actor Mike Doyle) and then making an appearance on TV's 'American Bandstand'.
The introduction of all these characters and the development of the group really bogs the beginning of 'Jersey Boys' down. While there are some songs in the first half, the vast majority are not the familiar hits we've come to know and love, so there's that weighing against the movie as well. Once all the pieces have been set in place, though, Eastwood's effort really starts to take off and if you can survive the first half, you'll be rewarded the remaining 75 minutes or so of the movie.
The second half of the movie not only provides us with the hits that The Four Seasons became so popular for, it also mixes in a healthy amount of drama – primarily dealing with some money/mafia problems that DeVito has gotten himself and the group into, plus a look at Frankie's failing marriage and his problematic relationship with one of his daughters, Francine (Freya Tingley). It's a shame Eastwood couldn't have found a way to get us to this point in the movie faster, as the most interesting aspects of 'Jersey Boys' happen after the group becomes famous.
There are other flaws in Eastwood's vision as well, with the most problematic for me being in production design. Instead of providing 'Jersey Boys' with a look that seems very realistic and lived in, almost everything is shiny and pristine – even the stuff that takes place before the characters hit the big time. Too many interiors look like sets, and too many exteriors appear to be (and most likely are) Hollywood backlots. I'm guessing the decision was made to give this big screen movie a more 'stagey' feel to it, since it's based on a musical, but since the movie is about real people, why make their surroundings more often than not feel so unreal?
The biggest burst of energy comes, believe it or not, after the credits start to roll, as we get a full-blown musical number that's essentially a closing curtain call for all the characters/actors in the movie. It's a wonderful way to end the film and makes you wonder what Eastwood would be like if he ever directed a full-blown musical. I'm guessing he'd do a pretty good job.
Despite its problems, I still enjoyed the second half of 'Jersey Boys' enough to recommend picking it up, and also feel it's a step in the right direction for Eastwood, who shows a kind of energy here that has been missing from his past few films. While it's far from being a great movie – thanks in large part to the rather ho-hum first half – there's enough quality here to want to add this one to your collection, particularly if you're a fan of the group or the director.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Jersey Boys' debuts on home video in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack. The discs are stored inside an eco-friendly Elite keepcase, with the dual-layer DVD on the inside left, and the 50GB Blu-ray on the inside right. An insert contains the code for an Ultraviolet copy of the movie. A slipcover matching the keepcase slick slides overtop. The Blu-ray is front-loaded with trailers for 'The Judge' and This is Where I Leave You. The DVD contains those trailers as well, but bookends them with an anti-tobacco ad (before) and trailers for 'Horrible Bosses 2', Tammy, and Edge of Tomorrow (after). The Blu-ray main menu is a typical one from Warners – just a still image with selections along the bottom of the screen.
This Blu-ray release is region-free.
Someone can correct me if I'm wrong (I know a number of our readers are Eastwood aficionados), but I believe 'Jersey Boys' is the first time Clint Eastwood has ever shot a movie digitally, making use of Arri Alexa equipment here. It proved to be a good choice, as the Blu-ray delivers an absolutely stunning transfer, full of detail and worthy of a reference-quality rating.
While some may complain about the way the colors are intentionally desaturated, that's intentional here and has nothing to do with the transfer itself. Black levels are excellent, and crush is pretty much non-existent. There are a few scenes in the movie that take place in almost completely white backgrounds, yet these never suffer from any issues with video noise creeping in or other types of shimmering or glitches. I also detected no issues with aliasing, while any haloing that occurs is completely intentional (i.e., stage lights, street lights, etc.) and never an issue with the transfer.
In short, despite what one may think of the movie itself, this is one of the most visually beautiful movies Eastwood has ever shot (despite some reservations I had with the production design, mentioned in the review above), and it will be interesting to see if he sticks with digital for the remainder of his career (for the record, the upcoming 'American Sniper' has also been shot on the Arri Alexa by Eastwood).
The featured track here is English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, and as one would hope/expect, the music of 'Jersey Boys' sounds great, with each speaker getting a nice workout, as well as adding a little 'oomph' from the subwoofer. However, while each and every musical number sounds great, there's little going on from an aural standpoint when The Four Seasons aren't performing. Dialogue comes across as rather flat (although still clear and understandable) when compared to the music on the track. There's also very little use – or at least little noticeable use – of the rears during the non-performance bits of the movie.
So basically what we get here is a decent track that really excels during the musical numbers. While that's not enough to put this track near a reference quality rating, it's still impressive when it counts and shouldn't disappoint those who pick up the Blu-ray.
In addition to the lossless track, 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks are available in Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.
Although it took a while to get going (a good hour, sadly), I wound up enjoying 'Jersey Boys' a whole lot more than I thought I would. The music here, of course, is what drives the movie, but if you can get through the rather slow first-half, you'll be rewarded for your patience in the much more emotionally charged second half. While still far from the best work Eastwood has done, 'Jersey Boys' is certainly a return to form after several disappointing directorial efforts. Recommended.