Jersey Boys – just not New Jersey enough

The main problem with Clint Eastwood’s cinema adaptation of the stage musical “Jersey Boys” about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, as far as I can see, is that it is not sufficiently “New Jersey”.

The characters all say that they are from New Jersey, and there are a couple of shots with (supposedly) New York City across the Hudson River (Jersey City?).

But the real indicator is an odd shot when the Frankie Valli and the other members of the “Four Seasons” all travel to home of their Mafia-like protector Gyp DeCarlo (a delightful Christopher Walken), who lives in a suburban mansion. The original band manager Tommy (Vincent Piazza) has taken them all into terrible debt to a loanshark, and the meeting there is to sort it out; it’s an important scene where effectively the group splits up (whoops – spoiler alert).

Presumably this scene takes place in “north” Jersey, and we all know that there are a few “mountains” nearby (unlike south Jersey, with its flat sandy plains) – hey, there are the Kittatinny Mountains, along with its foothills – the Pohchuck, Wawayanda, Bearfort, and Ramapo Ridges. And there are the Watchungs – consisting of Orange Ridge, Preakness Ridge, and Long Hill Ridge. But look carefully at this scene: was it really shot in New Jersey? The mountain behind the house seems way too steep to be in New Jersey and the vegetation looked pretty California-like to me.

I am a great fan of Clint Eastwood, and love most of his films of the last twenty years. But he’s a westerner, a former mayor of Carmel, California. He “does” San Francisco well, extraordinarily well: he was born there and had years of “Dirty Harry” characters, as well as directing “Blood Work” and others. He grew up playing westerns. (“The Good, The Bad, the Ugly”, which I once went to for a long-ago birthday present, was long one of my favourites). “Mystic River” – Boston, okay Clint you have me there. You did it once, but that was partly great casting, with Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon and more. But how about “The Bridges of Madison County” (upper Midwest) and “Unforgiven” (cowboy country) – that’s the west, to be sure, where I suggest you best know your stuff.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with filming in California and calling it New York. Hey, “Friends” was notably shot in Los Angeles, but that never felt very “New York” either, did it? By contrast, didn’t “Sex and the City” just ooze New York? It should, it was actually shot there.

It takes something else to portray those dense, multicultural east coast spaces of the USA. Martin Scorsese has it, in spades. Woody Allen has been criticised for only showing part of what the east coast is all about (he has usually preferred upper middle class, upper east side Jews … I love them, really), but he knows what it was like to grow up in New York City and has created some of the best screen romantic moments of that city. Barry Levinson, a Baltimore native, gets it. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck both get it, and their “Good Will Hunting” (Boston) director Gus Van Sant has been able to “do” both coasts (think “Milk”). The late Sidney Lumet was New York through and through. You want east coast films? Think Spike Lee, Sydney Pollack, Nora Ephron, Noah Baumbach – or the new wave of Lena Dunham and her contemporaries.

But Clint, Clint you never convinced me that I was, indeed, with you in New Jersey. Sure the houses were there and some accents. But a “New Jersey handshake” instead of a contract? Really? Go west, Clint, go west.

Below – character of Tommy on a street in New Jersey:

Jersey Boys Tommy on street

Below – the set of “Friends”, taken at the Warner Brothers studio lot, October 2011:

29Oct2011 NY LA-1 349

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