The jukebox musical — that stagy theatrical concept whereby a bunch of musical numbers are integrated into a narrative, recently popularised on film by Mamma Mia! (2008) and seen in last year’s Sunshine on Leith — has always been an odd genre, and one I’ve not particularly warmed to, despite being quite a fan of musicals. The requirement to shoehorn in a band’s music and then explain it within the narrative lends itself to a certain campness, which the films I mention above embrace by tying it to a self-consciously melodramatic fictional narrative. Here, though, the story is drawn from life (via a Broadway musical), being that of the band whose music is featured, namely Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. It takes place over a period of decades, and this grand sweep means that a lot of the emotional impact is reduced. What you get, then, is a bunch of choreographed musical performances (some done rather well) in amongst a lot of temperamental band arguments, streetwise hustling for money and gigs, some pretty downplayed mafia stuff (I’m never clear what exactly Christopher Walken’s don even does for the band), and life-changing events like the one involving Frankie’s daughter, that all have very little impact because things are passed by so quickly. Added to this, while there’s some gorgeous Edward Hopper-esque moodiness to the cinematography, the period setting all seems to be rather drained of vibrancy. Perhaps this is due to the staginess of the set design, but mostly it’s the lack of urgency in the acting. The four band members are all actors with whose work I had not previously been familiar (the lead, John Lloyd Young, comes from the Broadway version, and the others have television backgrounds), but only Vincent Piazza as loud-mouthed Tommy DeVito makes much of a mark, while the others barely seem to age over the several decades we follow them; they are all too young and lack the required gravitas to convince. It’s not a terrible film by any means, but it’s at best a footnote to the success of the stage original.
Director Clint Eastwood; Writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (based on the musical); Cinematographer Tom Stern; Starring John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Vincent Piazza, Christopher Walken, Michael Lomenda; Length 134 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Wandsworth, London, Tuesday 24 June 2014.