Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Christopher Walken, Mike Doyle, Renée Marino, Joseph Russo, Freya Tingley. (2014, R, 134 min.)
REVIEWED By Louis Black, Fri., June 20, 2014
A great Broadway musical book combined with a journeyman directing job by Eastwood makes for a very pleasurable narrative journey, though one would be reluctant to overpraise its accomplishments as a film. Four wayward guys who came together in New Jersey and named themselves the Four Seasons, rise to conquer the pop music world. They have hit after hit, but their personal relationships grow frayed.
There’s not much new to the rise-and-fall story, except that only two of the original members really quit, while one grew really hostile toward the others. In these films, the structures of friendship that initially supported the rise of the group is often depicted as still-dangerous nuclear ash by the end.
Jersey Boys is entertainingly told, yet is a more traditional film than are many Eastwood-directed works. Most outstanding is the acting, especially John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony for originating the Frankie Valli role on Broadway. Usually, stage stars don’t get cast in movies, but Eastwood (playing by his own rules as usual) cast two of the play’s other Jersey Boys, as well.
In doing musicals, Eastwood has often plunged into the kind of personal madness that only he can get away with, as seen in the lack of any real dramatic structure in Honkytonk Man or the careening-out-of-control, black-and-white cinematography of Bird . Here he shoots in more polite pastels – brown and white, if you will. It’s a surprisingly traditional Hollywood biopic, studio musical effort.
At 84, Eastwood’s wild days of visionary cinematic extravaganzas are behind him. Back then, in return for starring in another Dirty Harry sequel, Eastwood would get to direct one of his more outré efforts. But the bad boy has gone mainstream, his daring replaced by the unimaginative, his once-reliable lunatic preferences – especially when playing against traditional Hollywood narrative and structure – neutered by a desire to get the film to work, something he once seemed not to care about at all.
The film is fun. It could have been produced by Ross Hunter but wasn’t, maybe even directed by Vincente Minnelli, although he probably would have screwed with it a lot more. The perversity in this film originates in those connections to the film’s studio pedigree rather than Eastwood’s brigand ways.