Thursday, April 17, 2014

The 'Jersey Boys' Trailer Kicks Off 2014's Very Musical Year

Nipping on the heels of the trailer premiere for Gone Girl earlier this week is the debut of the first trailer for director Clint Eastwood's latest: an adaptation of the popular stage production Jersey Boys. Many have speculated what the veteran actor and director would bring to this subject matter, especially with his recent films being tamer, elderly fare such as Gran Torino and J. Edgar. However, from the looks of it, this appears to be another biopic in the vein of Walk the Line except with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. It looks to be a fun, energetic change to the director's recent filmography and also one of the first considerable Oscar contenders for the upcoming year.

If there is going to be any trend in 2014, it will be that of musicals. Considering the scarcity in the past, it seems about right that they would be making a comeback. This fall shows us Into the Woods and Annie as potential crowd pleasers. Considering that a James Brown biopic called Get on Up comes out in August, it is going to be a lively time at the movies, and it all kicks off with Jersey Boys, which opens up on June 20.

The approach is different from most of its competitors and plays into territory familiar to fans of director Tom Hooper's Les Miserables. With exception to Christopher Walken as Gyp DeCarlo, the cast is made up of stage performers who are already familiar with the roles. While it has potential to backfire as a financial success, it doesn't seem likely since Eastwood is an established director and Jersey Boys is being adapted from one of the most popular stage shows. At very least, it helps it to separate itself from potential biopic of the year upset Get on Up.

Check out the trailer below:

As someone who is not familiar with the subject matter, the most notable thing is how thuggish the characters appear to be. Yes, the singing style doesn't imply a thuggish feel, but considering camera narrative technique that recalls Goodfellas, this feels like it is going in with style and casual exploitation of this universe. From the trailer, we get a sense of origin and where the story is likely to go. Another bonus is that the music appears to be sung by the cast, so it doesn't sound like a direct lift of the classics. Out of context, it sounds compelling and leaves me to wonder how similar to Les Miserables it is in terms of recording sung vocals. While that film had conflicting issues, I find that live singing actually enhances my enjoyment of a film by making it feel more raw. Only time will tell how true that is for Jersey Boys.

It also seems funny that Eastwood would tackle something like this. It feels strange considering his track record of westerns and gritty dramas. If I hadn't known ahead of time, the "Directed By" card in this would have been a little baffling. However, it looks to be a great departure for him, as he seems to bring a personable approach to that has more life than his last film, which wasn't too confident on its depiction of an American political figure. Even then, fans of Academy Awards history should be amused that Walken was the first person who signed up for a film featuring the song "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," which was one of the most iconic moments in Best Picture winner The Deer Hunter starring... you guessed it, Walken.

Unlike last year's lack of monthly diversity in the Best Picture race, I do feel like we're entering a more competitive period. Provided that these films deliver quality, I do feel like Jersey Boys can be an early standout, as it also crosses the threshold of being released post-June: a period where I feel that all films can be serious contenders. Since he is a veteran who has won Best Picture twice (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby), he has a lot of credibility going into the race and even if this is just one meant to entertain fans, it may be enough to get recognized by the Academy.

I am unsure in what other fields it is likely to succeed, though I would keep my eye out for the acting positions. Maybe one of the performances will be flashy enough to get recognition. Of course, it has to compete with whatever comes in the Fall as well as the flashier biopic Get on Up which I predict will play out well for Chadwick Boseman as James Brown. The evidence is in past nominations for actors-portraying-icons such as winner Jamie Foxx (Best Actor - Ray) and Joaquin Phoenix (Best Actor - Walk the Line). There are infinite selections, but it will all come down to whoever plays their cards better in the marketing department.

Will Jersey Boys prove to be a strong Best Picture nominee? Can stage performers translate to movies and win awards? What is the film's biggest competition going to be?

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