“In 1962,” began Variety‘s Scott Foundas a few days ago, “the same year that a quartet of working-class New Jersey youths called the Four Seasons shot to the top of the pop charts with the irresistible doo-wop single ‘Sherry,’ a solo artist from the West Coast made a less auspicious chart appearance with an earnest cowboy ballad inspired by his character on a popular TV Western. Entitled ‘Rowdy,’ the song featured its gravelly voiced performer lamenting life on the open range, set to a gentle, galloping tempo. That singer was Clint Eastwood…. So perhaps it isn’t as strange as it first seems that Eastwood now finds himself at the helm of Jersey Boys, the long-gestating screen version of the hit Broadway musical about [Frankie] Valli’s rocky road to superstardom.”
In a backgrounder for the Telegraph, Thomas H. Green notes that the film’s “based on the musical theater phenomenon of the same name which launched in California in 2005, moved to Broadway the following year, and has gone on to be seen by 19 million people worldwide. There have been shows everywhere from Seoul to Singapore to South Africa, as well as an ongoing, Olivier-winning, six-year West End run.” Emphasizing the ties to the mob, Green sketches a history of the Four Seasons from their heyday half a century ago through to the present: “Valli still tours the global concert circuit.”
The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy notes that “the show’s original book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice have retained their Rashomon-style structure of offering different points of view on events by shifting the narrative voice from one band member to another…. For a while, it’s sort of ‘American Graffiti Meets Mean Streets,’ with Frankie [John Lloyd Young, who originated the role on Broadway] and some sidewalk pals, notably good-looking small-time con Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), pulling pranks and an amusingly stupid botched robbery in a neighborhood reigned over by benevolent godfather-type Angelo ‘Gyp’ DeCarlo (a smooth Christopher Walken); amusingly the name of Pesci’s character in GoodFellas is Tommy DeVito.” Pesci introduces “the boys to Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), a straight-arrow, comparatively clean-cut kid who, at 15, has already written one national hit (the immortal ‘Short Shorts’) for his group the Royal Teens. Proud, hot-headed Tommy resists, but Bob’s amazingly facile songwriting skills, combined with the recording savvy of producer and sometime music co-writer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle), put the newly christened The Four Seasons (formerly The Four Lovers) in the groove for massive success.”
“Despite its familiar storyline—apparently, every great musical group started from humble origins, captured the public imagination, got famous, and then imploded—Jersey Boys does have its consistent minor charms,” finds Tim Grierson, writing for Screen Daily. “Eastwood effortlessly guides the predictable narrative along its comfortable turns, and long-time cinematographer Tom Stern crafts his dependably blue-grey images, which lend the past a vivid, hyper-real preciousness. But without the moral weight and melodramatic gravitas Eastwood usually brings to his films, Jersey Boys ultimately doesn’t seem to have much to say about The Four Seasons, the mid-century America that spawned them, or the burgeoning musical scene to which the band was connected.”
Back in Variety, Andrew M. Barker notes that Eastwood’s “always had an astute ear for music; he excels at regionally specific ambiance and period studies, and here he avoids the music video 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.”
“Through much of the movie, you keep thinking it would be better suited for someone with substantially more style and flair, like Martin Scorsese or Paul Thomas Anderson,” suggests Martin Tsai in the Critic’s Notebook.
Updates, 6/19: “Jersey Boys is a strange movie, and it’s a Clint Eastwood enterprise, both reasons to see it,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “For those with a love of doo-wop, it also provides a toe-tapping, ear-worming stroll down rock ’n’ roll memory lane that dovetails with that deeply cherished American song and dance about personal triumph over adversity through hard work, tough times and self-sacrifice.” That said: “It’s disappointing that Mr. Eastwood, a director who can convey extraordinary depths of feeling in his work, didn’t do more with this material.”
At the AV Club, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky suggests that “there aren’t many directors out there who could fluidly pull off three different fourth-wall-breaking on-camera narrators, or create the eerie chill of the moment where Valli… sings the opening verse of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ for the first time. The unfortunate trade-off of Eastwood’s efficient, real-deal classical direction is his stubborn commitment to the script. In this case, that means eliding everything artistically interesting that the group ever did (like, say, The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette) and loading the back end of the movie with a mushy hit-by-hit structure that probably worked like gangbusters on stage, but drags on screen.”
Chris Cabin for Slant: “Taking on the popular genre of the musical biopic, Eastwood turns an easy hit into a strange, hard-nosed, and quite personal rumination on making talent last despite the pitfalls of collaboration, money, and even art, finding a credo and kinship in a band that built a steady career where so many others sought out hollow glory and unchecked privilege.”
“There’s a lot of big, painful true-life drama in Jersey Boys’ story,” writes Tasha Robinson at the Dissolve. “But Eastwood has his actors play it all with grave, subdued import that barely budges the drama needle even when they’re yelling at each other. When the actors are singing, the film has some verve; when they’re talking, it’s sleepy and plodding, with all the self-importance of Eastwood’s Gran Turino or Million Dollar Baby.”
“It’s an adaptation at once heedless and cowardly,” writes Guy Lodge at In Contention. “Anyone who thought that the director wouldn’t be able to fashion a Clint Eastwood film out of the Four Seasons’ story is proven ever so wrong; anyone who thought the director couldn’t film a musical, on the other hand, is presented with little evidence to the contrary.”
The Voice‘s Alan Scherstuhl: “Eastwood knows a trick Broadway forgot once ticket prices hit triple digits: Leave ’em wanting more. He also has a feel for street toughs and their prickly pride, anchoring early scenes of street crime and bar life with welcome weight.”
“It’s always great to see the creative process on screen, even if it’s glamorized beyond all believability,” writes Jordan Hoffman at Film.com. “The shock comes when this slow movie reaches what feels like a good point to end—and you realize you are only about 45 minutes in. Good God, this is a slog.”
“Clint Eastwood’s attempt to turn a smash jukebox musical into a Coke Zero version of Goodfellas with sing-song interludes comes off just as stilted as you might expect,” writes Drew Lazor in the Philadelphia City Paper.
“Despite some third-act blandness, Jersey Boys is quite likable overall,” writes Robert Horton in the Seattle Weekly. “Eastwood’s personality comes through in the film’s relaxed portrait of the virtues of hard work and the value of a handshake agreement. This may be the least neurotic musical biopic ever made.”
The Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin: “Imagine if the makers of Mamma Mia! had decided that no, audiences wouldn’t be coming to their film for the Abba songs at all, but for a melodrama in which three of Meryl Streep’s ex-lovers turn up unexpectedly at her Greek villa. Picture Streep and Pierce Brosnan feuding for hours on a gusty cliff-top, with SOS reduced to a whistled aside. This is the scale of the misjudgment.”
“Eastwood has directed a semi-musical that only partially cares about the music,” agrees Esther Zuckerman at The Wire.
At The Credits, Bryan Abrams reports on a press conference; Eastwood, his writers and a few members of the cast were there.
Updates, 6/20: For Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir, “the modest charms of Clint Eastwood’s thoroughly enjoyable and admittedly lightweight musical… lie in the fact that it isn’t trying to outdo its many predecessors.”
“Narrative chasms, one-note characters, showbiz clichés don’t seem to bother [Eastwood],” writes New York‘s David Edelstein. “As long as he can bring the movie in ahead of time and under budget, it’s all good. To be fair, some of it is good, very good. Jersey Boys has an easy, likable gait.”
“It’s a sentimental and derivative picture,” grants the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw, “not really a juke-box musical, more a music biopic like Dreamgirls (about the Supremes)—and there are audience cutaways incidentally pinched straight from Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose…. There is, moreover, no chance of an Oscar for makeup. Yet, for all its faults, I found it relaxingly enjoyable and heartfelt.”
“The elephant in the room is Eastwood himself,” finds Odie Henderson at RogerEbert.com. “He is the wrong director for this material, and this opinion comes from someone who loved Million Dollar Baby, Space Cowboys and even those orangutan movies.”
“In one crucial musical number, Clint Eastwood proves why he was an excellent choice,” counters Simon Abrams in the Nashville Scene, referring to a performance of “Sherry.” “The scene reveals the band members’ individual personalities while showing them shifting on their heels in perfect unison: Valli (John Lloyd Young) smirks in the limelight, while Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) nervously covers up insecurity with a cheekily raised eyebrow. This energizing performance is Jersey Boys’ most unapologetically nostalgic scene—a snowglobe-clear vision of Valli’s simpler but never innocent heyday. It’s also the crux of Eastwood’s affecting and unsentimental (if sometimes lumpy) look back at the rise and fall of the Four Seasons.”
For Charlie Schmidlin at the Playlist, “Jersey Boys is wall-to-wall fantasyland showbiz, expertly shot and boasting fine performances, but it is in the spirit world between stage and screen where it loses its footing.”
Update, 6/21: “It isn’t until the closing credits, which feature a big, bouncy all-cast performance of the irresistibly sing-able ‘December, 1963,’ that this awkwardly transposed stage musical begins to find a voice of its own,” writes Slate‘s Dana Stevens. “That last big production number—in which every character, including Walken’s suave gangster, gets a walk-on (or dance-on) role—hints at the broad, cheerfully campy musical celebration Jersey Boys might have been.”
Update, 6/22: “There are, you could argue, two Clint Eastwoods,” suggests Bilge Ebiri, writing for Rolling Stone. “One is the strong, near-silent type, the man with no name but a pair of Colt revolvers or a .44 Magnum, the lean avenging angel who asks if you feel lucky, punk, and would care to make his day…. Then there’s the Clint behind the camera, the classicist who evokes old-school filmmakers like John Ford and Eastwood’s mentor Don Siegel, the guy who likes to keep things nice and easy on the set, and never likes to do more than a few takes. The director who makes movies that feel ambivalent about taking the law into your own hands, and biopics about jazz musicians, and a genuine tearjerker about a love between two late-in-life romantics that could not be…. In his early years as a director, Eastwood’s films consciously played to his cowboy/tough-guy image. But right from the start, they also interrogated it.”
Update, 6/26: “All this seems precisely unsuited to the talents of Clint Eastwood,” writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. “He is a master of the clean, classical narrative, not of lurching moods and similar folderol.”
Updates, 6/28: “Working with Tom Stern, his cinematographer since 2002’s Blood Work, Eastwood has shot Jersey Boys in his favored color scheme, in which no tone appears that you might not find on a particularly weather-beaten cigar store Indian,” writes Nick Pinkerton for Film Comment. “It would appear that Eastwood’s Jersey Boys wasn’t the Jersey Boys that America wanted.”
“The latest of 84-year-old Eastwood’s late career surprises harks back to a filmmaking era that never existed, a backlot-driven, quiet, even spectral elongation of the terse framing and blocking of his mentor, Don Siegel (Dirty Harry),” writes Ray Pride at Newcity Film. “The combination of the gentility of the settings, sometimes-slapstick comedy, shameless profanity, casually staged musical numbers and erratic casting make for an eccentric, underwhelming, but intermittently eye-opening failure.”
Update, 6/29: “How appropriate it is that Eastwood cites How Green Was My Valley as one of his favorite films,” writes John Lehtonen at The Vulgar Cinema. “Like that film, his work is a dialectic of memory and time, truth and the fictions characters tell themselves. What was, and what they thought it was. In Letters from Iwo Jima we leave a dying man, through dissolve, and see him driving a road, any road, across a great expanse, death and freedom conflated. The Bridges of Madison County is framed by a drab present, the romance occurring entirely in memory. Sudden Impact’s violence is spurred by traumatic past. Jersey Boys presents us with yet another variation on this dynamic; moments and absences linger like strands.”