June 20, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Film Review: “Jersey Boys”


JERSEY BOYS:  Watch It At Home – Clint Eastwood Directing the Broadway Hit Is As Weird As It Sounds

No one will mistake the combination of Clint Eastwood and JERSEY BOYS for the fortuitous collision of chocolate and peanut-butter.  Some of Eastwood’s strongest tendencies as a filmmaker–admirable in the right context–fit badly here, and the result is as odd as you’d imagine.

Eastwood is a noted jazz buff, and Bird, one of his first truly serious films, is a gorgeously elegiac ode to Charlie Parker, thick with atmosphere and the sadness of a great talent cut off far too soon.  Melancholy is Eastwood’s go-to tone as a director, and it’s part of what gives weight to his often-violent genre films, which in his hands broaden to a more ambiguous consideration of character and fate.   Jersey Boys, though, has little of that quality as source material.  While it’s a relatively “warts and all” treatment of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, in that it doesn’t shy away from the troubles that beset the group, it’s still largely a jukebox musical, much more interested in sending the audience out with a smile on its face than in exploring the ambivalence and transitory nature of fame.

Of course, many filmmakers take source material that appeals to them and make wholesale changes in tone and content to suit their purposes.  Anthony Burgess and Stephen King, two authors with little else in common, were infuriated with Stanley Kubrick’s adaptations of A Clockwork Orange and The Shining, and although Mario Puzo was a much happier participant in the adaptation of The Godfather, Francis Coppola’s film has a completely different feel than the original novel.   But another of Eastwood’s guiding principles as a director is his willingness–even insistence–on filming the script he’s been given.  Paul Haggis of Million Dollar Baby and Peter Morgan of Hereafter have both talked about how shocked they were when Eastwood essentially directed the scripts he’d originally read with no rewrites, and he famously commissioned a rewritten script of Unforgiven and then discarded all the changes.  Baby and Unforgiven, of course, were great as they were, but the truth is that Hereafter could have used a rewrite, and so could Eastwood failures like J. Edgar and Invictus.  Writer-friendliness, taken to an extreme, can be a fault as well as a virtue.

In the case of Jersey Boys, there was nothing very wrong with the Broadway musical’s book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, but it was crafted as superficial connective tissue between songs.  Bringing it to the screen with great fidelity, while pacing the story with Eastwood’s usual somber pace and literally draining it of color with his favored semi-monochromatic visual style (the cinematography is by Tom Stern, who’s shot a dozen films for the director), does it no favor–indeed, it plays up everything that was weak and gimmicky about a script that was great fun on the stage.  For example, Eastwood has retained the theatrical conceit of having various characters tell the story directly to the audience–in this case, the camera–which is a difficult trick to pull off even for a director with a light touch, and feels groaningly forced here.

Eastwood’s faithfulness to the stage show extends to the casting.  All four of the film’s leads–John Lloyd Young as Valli, Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito, Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio, and Michael Lamenda as Nick Massi–have played their roles either on Broadway or in the Jersey Boys touring company.  They all knows their roles up and down, of course (Young won a Tony for his performance, and he duplicates Valli’s legendary falsetto remarkably well), but there’s little that’s fresh about them (their Joisey accents sound at times like they boned up for the movie by watching a marathon of Happy Days episodes), and some of them have ten years of tenure in the parts, making them long in the tooth for a story that begins with the characters as teens.

The story itself is unremarkable, aside from the music that came out of it.  The quartet came from a tough neighborhood, had run-ins with the law and local gangster Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken, virtually the only familiar face on screen), and Tommy in particular caused trouble for everyone with his gambling debts. There’s no grand drama here.

Aside from the sequences detailing how the Four Seasons sound came to be, Eastwood’s direction makes it feel like he never found a comfort level with the material.  The attempts at ethnic humor are weak, the dramatic scenes play on too long considering their lack of nuance and overabundance of expository dialogue, and while the famous songs are all there, “Walk Like A Man” to “Sherry” to “Oh What a Night” to “I Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” the staging is uninspired until the movie finally rouses itself for its end credits sequence.

Jersey Boys is a matter of the wrong filmmaker mishandling material that was never suited to him.  The irony is that a workmanlike director with less individual personality would probably have made a more effective movie.  Eastwood neither turns the musical into something of his own, nor captures the charm of its original incarnation, and the result is more awkward than tuneful.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."