Critical mass: Does Clint Eastwood's 'Jersey Boys' sing?

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Image Credit: Keith Bernstein

Clint Eastwood directing Jersey Boys might be the most odd-coupling of director and musical material since John Huston made Annie. Like Huston, Eastwood has a Broadway hit to rely upon; in fact, he’s even got the Tony-nominated writers and the show’s Tony-winning star, John Lloyd Young as falsetto master Frankie Valli. “With his slicked-back pompadour and wardrobe of sharkskin suits, Young looks more like the late Bruno Kirby than Valli,” says EW’s critic Chris Nashawaty. “But when he opens his mouth, you believe you’re listening to the real deal. He finds every ounce of sweat, aftershave, and salad dressing that made up Valli’s one-of-a-kind voice.”

The story of the Four Seasons, who came up in a rough Italian-American neighborhood in New Jersey and flirted with real danger on their way to fame and fortune, is still a Broadway sensation, and the quartet’s unique and nostalgic sound gives the film a bankable attraction. Eastwood, now 84, leans heavily on the stage show, adapting its Rashomon storytelling style, with frequent fourth-wall-breaking dialogue where the characters give the camera their versions of the truth.

Of the band, the only newcomer to the material is Vincent Piazza (Boardwalk Empire), who plays hot-headed Tommy DeVito, and Christopher Walken plays a godfather, of sorts, who helps the boys when trouble arises.

Read more from EW’s review, as well as a round-up of other notable critics, below.

Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)
The biggest problem is that the film, written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, never makes a convincing case for why Valli the man or the singer matters beyond the music in the way that Ray and Walk the Line did for Ray Charles and Johnny Cash. Such are the perils of adapting a somewhat one-dimensional stage show.

Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun Times)
“At times the movie version of Jersey Boys captures the electric excitement of the musical, but for every soaring moment, there are 10 minutes of bickering or brooding. For one of the few times in Eastwood’s career as a director, he seems indecisive about what kind of movie he wanted to make.”

Ty Burr (Boston Globe) ▼
“It’s probably cruel to say it, but Eastwood’s best years as a filmmaker may be behind him, so uncertain is Jersey Boys in tone as it lurches from year to year, song to song.”

Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle)
“Even if you have never particularly liked these songs, you will like them here; and it won’t just be a matter of Stockholm syndrome. There’s something about witnessing the birth of a sound—specifically “Sherry,” their breakthrough—that makes that sound more beautiful.”

Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times)
Jersey Boys [has] a bit of a darker cast than its Broadway predecessor, [but] that doesn’t stop it from being pleasantly enjoyable. Eastwood, as always, has simply done things his own way, and the result is a leisurely old-school entertainment with a bit more edge than you may be expecting.”

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky  (The AV Club)
“The unfortunate trade-off of Eastwood’s efficient, real-deal classical direction is his stubborn commitment to the script. … He wholly commits to an underdeveloped drama that was designed only to set up extended musical numbers, and, in the process, makes the songs seem intrusive and padded.”

Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter)
“If the ultimate aim of the theatrical version … was to get the audience on its feet for the final feel-good medley, Eastwood goes for a more mixed mood, combining the joy of the music with what Valli, in particular, lost and could never regain.”

Richard Corliss (TIME)
“Why is the Jersey Boys film a turgid botch? Eastwood’s résumé hints at a reason. His affinity is for American standards as improvised on piano or guitar by indigenous artists in smoky nightclubs, not for the tightly wound, impeccably pounding songs [of] the Four Seasons. Eastwood is mature jazz; they’re teen pop.”

Wesley Morris (Grantland)
“There’s a respect paid here that you can sense. It’s not nostalgia so much as attempted wish fulfillment. Eastwood might have gone to bed with Goodfellas, but he woke up with Dreamgirls.”

David Edelstein (New York—Vulture)
“The film is a funny mix of formulaic and fresh. The numbers are too polished—there’s no sense of discovery. But the songs and their harmonies are evergreen. Walking out a theater with those tunes in your head, you might even think you saw a good movie.”

Manohla Dargis (New York Times)
“Mr. Young originated the role of Frankie on Broadway, and he persuasively approximates Mr. Valli’s patented strangled falsetto if not its weird beauty. Mr. Young certainly catches your ear and attention when he’s scaling those heights, but once the music fades, so does he.”

Jersey Boys
Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 54
Rotten Tomatoes: 57 percent

Rated: R
Length: 134 minutes
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Vincent Piazza, Christopher Walken
Distributor: Warner Bros.


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