Film Review: ‘Jersey Boys’

Jersey Boys Film Review

Clint Eastwood's first musical as a director never fully decides what kind of movie it wants to be.

Though based on a smash-hit jukebox tuner that won four Tonys, Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of “Jersey Boys” can’t properly be described as a full-on musical. It does often hint at becoming one, just as it hints at becoming a “La Bamba”-esque early rock study, a cautionary tale about organized crime, and a sort of “Rashomon”-influenced take on the rise of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. But by the time it hits its first real Broadway-style production number over the closing credits, “Jersey Boys” doesn’t seem to have gotten any closer to deciding what kind of movie it wants to be. Embracing neither the fizzy energy of a Vegas-ready tuner, nor the grit of a warts-and-all biopic, the film nonetheless has its own peculiar charms, and should be able to capitalize on the source material’s enduring popularity for a respectable if modest B.O. haul.

Though Eastwood didn’t have the best of luck with musicals as an actor, this property ought to have been well within his directorial wheelhouse. As a helmer, he’s always had an astute ear for music; he excels at regionally specific ambiance and period studies, and here he avoids the musicvideo shooting style that has turned so many recent film tuners into brightly colored slurry. But as handsome as his compositions are, Eastwood’s filmmaking simply doesn’t have the snap or the feel for rhythm that the script’s rapid-fire theatrical patter requires, and the relative dearth of prominent musical performances turns what could have been a dancing-in-the-aisles romp into a bit of a slog.

Eastwood’s somber dramatic focus is on display from the start, as he opens not with a song, but rather a thoroughly Scorsesean scene inside a Belleville, N.J., barbershop in the 1950s: Golden-throated 16-year-old Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young) is a barber in training, attending to local mob boss Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken). It’s the kind of neighborhood where, as petty criminal and guitarist Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) tells the camera in direct address, the only ways to escape are joining the army, getting “mobbed up,” or getting famous. “For us,” he says, “it was two out of three.”

DeVito enlists Castelluccio as a lookout for a heist that goes sour and lands Tommy in prison, but from these inauspicious beginnings the seeds of the Four Seasons are sown. With Castelluccio renaming himself Frankie Valli, and DeVito’s fellow profiteer Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) joining on bass, the group is introduced to precocious songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) by wannabe talent scout Joey Pesci (Joseph Russo)  later known simply as Joe Pesci  and finally finds its sound.

Though the first 45 minutes are littered with sporadic song fragments, it’s only here that the film starts to truly resemble a musical, with Gaudio gathering his new bandmates around the piano to play “Cry for Me,” as each man joins in turn. It’s the sort of scene that was orchestrated far more organically in “Once,” but it’s nonetheless effective at conveying the joy of sudden harmonic epiphany. After they catch the ear of flamboyant producer-lyricist Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle, adding some welcome shadings to what could have been a one-joke gay stereotype), the Four Seasons shoot to the top of the charts.

The music finally comes alive in the middle section that follows. Staging three consecutive numbers as live television performances, Eastwood shifts among wide angles from way up in the cheap seats, glimpses from behind the TV monitors, and slightly obstructed views from inside the audience pit in front of the stage. This style might sap the sequences of some of the explosive engagement that a flashier director like Rob Marshall might have brought to the numbers, but it manages to honor the period and the material’s stage origins in a nicely unshowy way.

After this high, however, comes a rather long hangover. Interpersonal squabbles, money woes, groupies, domestic drama and lingering mob connections all cause predictable problems in predictable ways, and the film’s focus starts to blur, going for long stretches without any music at all. Even though each of the group’s four members take turns narrating their side of the story  breaking the fourth wall in a broadly theatrical manner for which Eastwood never finds a proper cinematic correlative  none of them really deepen into fully dimensional men.

Initially providing doses of Puckish mischief, DeVito’s insouciance gradually curdles into irritation, and he disappears for much of the last third. Valli remains unknowable, a good-hearted blue-collar entertainer without much of an apparent life. Gaudio, who bears an uncanny resemblance to “Election”-era Chris Klein, goes from teetotaling, T.S. Eliot-quoting square to bearded artiste with little in between. And poor Massi is the bass player.

Aside from “Boardwalk Empire” support player Piazza, three of the four leads were drawn from various stage iterations of “Jersey Boys,” and while all are solid in their respective roles (Tony winner Young does a stunning job channeling Valli’s sublime falsetto), they only occasionally seem to be surfing the same wave. Christopher Walken creates most of the film’s laughs by simple virtue of being Christopher Walken, but his doddering don screams out for a bigger, broader performance. The marvelously venomous Renee Marino gets a fantastic introductory scene as Valli’s first wife, Mary, and is then subsequently squandered as a one-note boozy nag.

Production designer James J. Murakami expends a good deal of energy on vintage period details, but it’s disappointing how little the story itself explores such an exciting era for music. Four Seasons contemporaries like the Beatles and the Beach Boys are never mentioned; nor is there any discussion of the group’s distinctive style, or the way a quartet with two ex-con members managed to sell themselves as such a squeaky-clean outfit. We see the boys receive a cake in honor of their three consecutive No. 1 singles, but we never get an idea what pop stardom in the early 1960s must have felt like. And the only real nod to the vicissitudes of recording comes via an unintentionally hilarious scene where Crewe, after hearing four seconds of “Sherry” over the phone, immediately declares his intention to double-track Valli’s voice on the record, helpfully hollering, “it’s never been done before!”

On a technical level, the film is strangely hit-and-miss. Tom Stern’s shadowy photography can be gorgeously low-key in one scene, then garishly lit and sheened with yellow in the next. Eastwood and editors Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach pull off some graceful slow pans and Sorkinesque walk-and-talks, only for some hideous rear projection to mar a few driving scenes. Costume designer Deborah Hopper does great work, but while the old-age makeup on display in the closing scenes is a noticeable improvement on “J. Edgar,” it still might elicit a chuckle or two.

Film Review: 'Jersey Boys'

Reviewed at Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank, Calif., June 11, 2014. (In Los Angeles Film Festival closer.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 132 MIN.

Production

A Warner Bros. release and presentation of a GK Films, Malpaso Films production in association with Ratpac-Dune Entertainment. Produced by Clint Eastwood, Graham King, Robert Lorenz. Executive producers, Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tim Moore, Tim Headington, Brett Ratner, James Packer, Steven Mnuchin.

Crew

Directed by Clint Eastwood. Screenplay, Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice, based on the stage play “Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons,” directed for the stage by Des McAnuff, book by Brickman, Elise, music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bib Crewe. Camera (color), Tom Stern; editors, Joel Cox, Gary D. Roach; music supervisor, Ron Melrose; production designer, James J. Murakami; costume designer, Deborah Hopper; supervising art director, Patrick M. Sullivan; set decorator, Ronald R, Reiss; sound, Walt Martin; supervising sound editors, Alan Robert Murray, Bub Ausman; re-recording mixers, John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff; visual effects supervisor, Michael Owens; assistant director, David M. Bernstein; casting, Geoffrey Miclat.

With

John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Michael Lomenda, Erich Bergen, Christopher Walken, Renee Marino, Mike Doyle, Barry Livingston, Freya Tingley, Erica Piccininni, Donnie Kehr, Joseph Russo.

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  1. Dkampitsis says:

    After all the advertising hype, we rented the dvd…..WHAT A MAJOR DISAPPOINTMENT…should have known that such an early release usually indicates that a film TANKS like Jersey Boys did. It is so disjointed that often had to rewind,replay in order to try to follow the story line which was all over the place. PERHAPS whom ever did the editing should be blamed or Clint Eastwood on producing this disaster.

  2. Judy Colclough says:

    THIS WAS WONDERFUL. I SAW IT ON STAGE 7 TIMES AND THE MOVIE SO FAR 3 TIMES. CLINT EASTWOOD DID A WONDERFUL JOB AND ALL THE PLAYERS WERE GREAT. I WILL CERTAINLY BUY IT WHEN IT COMES OUT.

  3. Karen Hopkins says:

    This was a GREAT, AWESOME and ENJOYABLE Movie from beginning to end…These people doing the reviews of Jersey Boys probably didn’t even go see the movie! Can’t wait to buy this on DVD so I’ll always have it… Thanks Clint, Frankie and all involved in making a Great and Entertaining Movie

    • GKN says:

      I agree. The review is terrible, but the movie was great. Best film I’ve seen all year – and that includes several Oscar noms I belatedly caught up on. Dodgy old-age make-up in one brief scene is the only pan I agree with in this critique. The reviewer should get more sleep, or something. Unless I see something better by December, I hope this film cleans up at award time!

  4. DENNIS says:

    Excellent movie

  5. Patrick Mulqueeney says:

    Have seen the live musical three times. The movie was very good and well represents the Jersey Boy’s
    story. I would recommend it to anyone that wants to view an American success story. PMM

  6. Sandra says:

    Went to see it with my bf and a friend. Loved it! It was funny, sad, music was so good! I wanna see it again!

  7. Carol Schmitt says:

    I seen the movie for the 2nd time today (and I’ve never done that) and I love it. Very entertaining. I’ll be going for a 3rd time over the weekend. Dont listen to the critics. Go for yourself.

  8. CDR says:

    I disagree with all the bad reviews of “Jersey Boys”. I saw the play on Broadway 3 times, all with John LLoyd Young as Frankie, who to me was the best choice to play in the movie version. I think the movie was true to the play and the way Eastwood put it together was fantastic. it was also very authentic to the time as well. His choices for all the actors were fantastic. I loved Piazza as Devito. The end dance scene had me dancing in my seat. I loved ever minute of it. Can’t wait for the DVD so I can watch it over and over.

  9. Latest Posts from the Business Information Centre says:

    The reviews of the Jersey Boys have upset me so I wrote a blog post review to counter them: http://impressionablesarah.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/jersey-boys-silence-is-not-golden-in.html

  10. Margery Cherin says:

    As someone who has seen JB on stage 14 times I believe I can be a serious critic for Mr. Eastwood’s movie. Let me start by saying I absolutely loved it and have been so looking forward to it’s release yesterday. I saw it twice. That being said here are my opinions. He made a major mistake by eliminating Falin Angel from the movie. It’s the one place in the show that brings tears. Especially since Francine was brought into the movie larger than the stage play. The play has simple but incredible choreography yet it wasn’t shown enough in the movie. Panning the camera back wouldn’t have taken a lot of effort however it would have had the audience dancing in their seat. One scene with the boys singing and some moves was SO off timing. How could that have slipped by anyone editing. I was embarrassed for Mr. Eastwood. 2 very small last things. It didn’t bother me the first time I watched the movie yesterday but it did the second cutting the sit down with Francine by 1-2 minutes along with the girlfriend packing her suitcase by another 1-2 minutes would have sped things up. It got a little draggy in both scenes. Again these are just my opinions and yes I will go back to see it again. For the most part I give it a B.

  11. Trish says:

    Everyone has a right to their own opinion, and I love the fact 3 of the 4 main roles went to actors who performed the roles in the musical. I saw the musical 4 times, the first seeing John Lloyd Young perform it on Broadway, twice in Chicago & once in Detroit. I loved it every time. When rumors started that Clint Eastwood was making it into a movie, I was ecstatic.Was it perfect? Probably not, nothing is, but it followed the musical very closely.& gave a bit more background & relationship insight than stage constraints allowed. I loved the attention to detail of the 50’s & 60’s costumes & scenery & vehicles. You felt you were in that time.again, which was very cool.. Although I always liked the 4 Seasons, I never really appreciated them until I saw Jersey Boys & heard their story and listened to their music again. Clint Eastwood has given us a chance to do it all over again in his movie, and I thank him for that. I’ve already seen the movie twice, and probably will see it a couple more times before it leaves the theaters. I get the same uplifting feeling from the movie that I got from the play, and that is a good thing!

  12. Diann says:

    Best film I have seen in months. Crowds were rockin and rollin in their seats. Run to see Jersey Boys.

  13. I just got back from watching.I give the movie 5 Gold stars. Just loved it. Full of feeling. I felt like I knew Frankie …Valli. I bet if they had not made it in singing they would be part of the Goodfellas.

  14. Julienne says:

    Can’t wait! It looks great…and I like Clint Eastwood’s Directing.

  15. Tom Borchardt says:

    I find some of these complaints about the film to be amazing.. Reviewers are all in a tizzy that jersey boys can’t be fit into one film category or the other..as if a movie has to be one kind of film or the other to be any good…jersey boys is a drama with music…if it were a drama about guys that worked in advertising.. you would see the personal lives with a few scenes in the office..this film is a drama with people who happen to be singers.. The fact that it was not a full blown musical with one big production number after the other is what every critic loved about the play.. The movie maintains the focus of the play with the music the backdrop to the story..maybe the reviewers never saw the play..or just did not get it..the Broadway play was pretty drab with its sparce set design but it was a hit with the public and critics alike..now the reviewer seems upset at the lack of song and dance numbers that were never there to begin with…just so it can be called a musical

  16. Grace says:

    Clearly you have never seen the musical production of Jersey Boys before. While the show is very joyful and entertaining, parts of the story are not supposed to be that way! It would be a disgrace to the Four Seasons and their fans, as well as fans of the show, to change the story to suit those like you. A major point of the musical is the influence their personal lives and decisions had on their music. Props to Eastwood for putting his touch on the story while still keeping it original and not conforming it to fit your wants!

  17. Whether you see this movie is up to you, but the story, based on what I’ve read. is not just music frolic, it’s the story of what it took for the 4 Seasons to “make it in the record business”. It’s the “behind the scenes” and the music that got them there. His falsetto voice was something nobody had ever heard before, it probably took some selling. I was just a kid then but, hearing “Sherry” for the first time was interesting.

  18. Tim says:

    As I highly suspected from the over-wrought trailer, Eastwood has sucked every bit of the joy out of what was a highly entertaining Broadway musical. Not one Broadway production number until the end credits? Count me out.

    On video, maybe, but I’m not paying $13 for an overlong segment of ‘Behind the Music’.

  19. To begin with I haven’t seen Jersey Boys yet, but the movie can’t just be a biopic and just can’t be a musical. The story is about how the 4 Seasons started and how their music got them to where they are. Mr. Eastwood probably took both ideas into consideration.

  20. LOL says:

    An R-rated Hollywood movie that’s not a comedy is like gold dust. Strange how only dudes in their seventies and eighties choose to direct them. The young filmmakers have no edge, the geriatrics do.

  21. Queens Boy says:

    For those that saw and enjoyed the show and are predisposed to like the movie, this review feels like a colonoscopy. Eastwood’s take expanded the musical to enhance the story, but maintained the musical dynamism.
    Clearly, to much over thinking .

  22. ThomT says:

    I always try to view stage musicals transferred to screen the same way. Know the score, know the story but try to forget what I saw on stage. For me that worked well with “Dreamgirls”, perfectly with “Chicago”, disappointingly with”Annie” and disgustingly with “A Chorus Line” (which I think deserved every terrible review it received). I don’t look for, or expect, a direct transfer as I know the story will be fleshed out and opened up. However, I do appreciate it when they attempt to keep the basic story intact. I liked “Jersey Boys” very much on stage and seemed a likely candidate for a big screen treatment and am hoping for a good movie.

    • Song In My Heart, Dance In My Step says:

      Hollywood is in the midst of Re-make-Mania. Wouldn’t now be a good time to produce a definitive film version of A CHORUS LINE? It’s been nearly 30 years since Attenborough unleashed that stinker – one of the great movie-going disappointments of my movie-loving life. And if they ever do make a proper film version, please oh please hire a director who understands (a) Broadway, and (b) the film musical form in all of its technical/choreographed complexity. I’m undecided if I’ll see JERSEY BOYS…J. EDGAR was appalling; the latter made me think Eastwood (who’d directed many fine films in the past) should really consider retiring.

  23. Chuck D. says:

    My wife and I are so excited to see what Clint has done with this film. We are predisposed to love it…period.

  24. TheBigBangOf20thCenturyPopCulture says:

    Translation: This movie was too stuck in stereotype land to be about the music.

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