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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

Jersey Boys movie review: it’s not only rock ’n’ roll…

by MaryAnn Johanson

Jersey Boys red light

Director Clint Eastwood’s discomfort with his own material is enormous and obvious. Does he just not get pop music, or is he actively disdainful and suspicious of it?
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not seen the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I’m hearing it in sky blue,” complains music producer Bob Crewe in the middle of recording a track with the group that will later be called The Four Seasons. “You’re giving me brown.”

Alas, the same could be said to director Clint Eastwood of his film adaptation of the Broadway and West End hitJersey Boys, about the rise and rise and rise — with only a little bit of stumbling — of the now legendary Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. This is a stodgy mess of a movie in which a mostly bland cast is shoved around like pawns on a narrative chessboard to tell a rags-to-riches story we’ve seen too many times before, and with far more emotional richness and cultural insight. There is no passion for music here, and no appreciation for what made Valli and The Four Seasons so popular. If you don’t already know that they are one of the biggest singing groups of all time, and on an international scale — they were the Beatles before the Beatles came along — you’ll find little hint of it here. A few allusions in a couple of lines of dialogue about grueling tours and money being thrown around with abandon cannot make up for everything that isn’t here: a palpable, visceral awareness of the sex appeal of rock ’n’ roll for the fans and of the life-altering tragicomedy of fame for the newly famous.

My initial reaction was that Eastwood (J. Edgar, Hereafter) simply does not get pop music, but the more I think on it, the more I wonder if he isn’t actively disdainful and suspicious of it. The Four Seasons’ music is undeniably fun, if a bit cheesy and dated today, but there’s nowhere near enough of it in a story that is supposed about that music… and when it does show up, it’s presented with an embarrassing stiffness, as if Eastwood doesn’t know what to make of it. One early performance by the guys on the TV show American Bandstand is directed in a static, on-the-nose way I’d expect from an amateur director. Eastwood’s discomfort with his own material is enormous and obvious. The few musical bits in Boys remind me of the images we saw out the Soviet Union in the 1980s, when glasnost allowed Western performers to put on rock concerts, but the shows were watched over by buzzkill military security, to ensure no one in the audience had too good a time.

There’s another scene, in which the guys attend a party hosted by Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle [Green Lantern, P.S. I Love You], one of the few bright spots among the cast), with whom they’ve just signed. Crewe is as flamboyantly gay as it was possible to be in the early 1960s, and his party is full of women who appreciate abstract art and men dressed with an eye for fashion, and the whole to-do is just generally fabulous. Eastwood cannot exit that party quickly enough. It’s impossible not to conclude that he finds this side of a creative industry downright icky.

And then there’s the problem that Eastwood doesn’t seem to know whether he’s making GoodFellas or, I dunno, Walk the Line. Eastwood has a lot of sympathy and a lot more time for Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) and his early career in music and relatively petty crime — Tommy has a sideline in selling stuff that falls off trucks — which is punctuated by spells in prison that he accepts with aplomb as a part of the business. Tommy’s pal Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young) — later Frankie Valli — has not dreamed of being a gangster, and he’s not very good at it, but he catches the ear, with his angelic singing voice, of Tommy’s mobster mentor, Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken: A Late Quartet, Seven Psychopaths), which will be helpful later when Tommy’s predilection for loansharks will come back to bite the whole group in the ass. Surely Eastwood will have been aware that whenever Walken is onscreen, the film springs to life, and that it deflates the moment the actor walks off, but that’s not a good reason to focus so much on the mafia angle at the expense of the music.

Fun fact: future GoodFellas actor Joe Pesci is a character here, portrayed by Joseph Russo; he’s the guy who introduces hugely talented songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) to Tommy, which will cement the future fortunes of the band. The script, by Marshall Brickman (Annie Hall) and Rick Elice, will go on to all but ignore Bob’s talent, which could have potentially made him the most intriguing character here. This is an extra pity, because Bergen is another high point among the otherwise forgettable cast, which is rounded out by Michael Lomenda as the fourth Season, Nick Massi.

The impromptu song that Bob plays as his audition to join the band is one of the few moments when Jersey Boys sparks to life: the other guys join in and jam, and we get a genuine sense of them as actual creative musicians in their own moment, not as stiff robots regurgitating old (to our ears today) tunes that are more muzak than fresh and authentic. But that’s lost among weird scene transitions, jumps in time that are pointlessly confusing, a mangled subplot about Valli’s daughter, mumbled and unnecessary narrations into the camera by characters that often seem random, and other cinematic flubs.

Rock ’n’ roll should be messy, but not like this.

Jersey Boys (2014)
US/Canada release date: Jun 20 2014 | UK release date: Jun 20 2014

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated BGDC (big girls do cry... and I’m crying)
MPAA: rated R for language throughout
BBFC: rated 15 (strong language)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Lisa

    I thought Vincent Piazza was good in it, Bergen too. The funny, how am I funny got NO laughs in the cinema I was in! Goodfellas was so long ago in the collective consciousness.

    There’s a big dance sequence at one point and all I could think was – “Nobody puts Walken in the corner!!!!!!!” in a dance sequence, I mean really…

  • RogerBW

    Clint Eastwood is four years older than Frankie Valli, and would have been in his early thirties when Valli first came to fame in the early 1960s. So… I’m guessing Eastwood’s own popular music would be mid to late 1940s, and between that and this you’ve got Elvis.

  • althea

    Just this morning when I saw the umpteenth promo on TV for this thing, I says to myself, “This thing is being shoved so far down our throats that somebody must know it’s a dog.” It’s everywhere. Commercial any time of the day, every five minutes. And – successful as the stage musical has been – I’ve got zero interest in it. Me, a contemporary with the Four Seasons, and I didn’t care about them even then.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Apparently Animaniacs was long ago in the collective consciousness too because they used to reference that line from Goodfellas all the time. (Now I really feel old. )

    As for Eastwood, I always got the feeling way before this that rock wasn’t exactly his favorite music genre. Perhaps he would have been more comfortable doing a Frank Sinatra biopic..

  • Tonio Kruger

    I know from experience that you do not exactly stop listening to or appreciating new music when you hit your early thirties. You do, however, tend to reserve a special spot in your heart for the music you listened to in your childhood, your teenage years and your early twenties.

    At least, I do. Your mileage, of course, may vary..

  • RogerBW

    A lot of people do seem to stop with the music of their teenage and early adult years.
    On the other hand I know a number of people in their teens and twenties who now reject all this modern rubbish and listen to the Beatles and the Stones and Joan Baez and…

  • I don’t think I could be any less interested in a movie(and the broadway production) than this one, even if it was actually good. UGH.

  • I’m actually entirely sick of the music I grew up with(80’s. Ugh.), and much prefer more recent stuff. Non-mainstream, no doubt, but more modern. Mostly soundtrack type stuff.

  • MichaelM

    The stage production is a joy to watch. Go see it.

    Too bad Clint Eastwood screwed up the movie version.

  • althea

    I suspect it’s another case of throwing the template out. You’re right, it’s amazing that so many kids are into the Beatles, and I have a fortysomething friend who is an avid 50s-60s fanatic. When you consider that when I was a kid, my age group didn’t have any interest in our parents’ music, which until this recent development was standard. (That said, I did happen to dig Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, but in secret until the last decade or so.) I hated most of what I heard on the radio in the 70s, but the 80s was great. Then in the 90s music formats started to get out of hand, and I lost track of who made what music, but now I grasp that there’s recent and current stuff that I love, but have no idea who performed it, so I don’t attach it to a genre. Still don’t quite get how they sorted through all the grunge and hair metal and thrash metal and what makes something power pop versus this versus that. I think this is a good thing. I don’t have to suffer through horrible stuff and can just find what interests me and either download a song or listen on YouTube. Heaven only knows what the next gen will think about music genres.

  • Lisa

    The stage production has the excitement of live music. The songs arent born in the film, theyre just fully formed when theyre sung. The whole build up to you’re just too good to be true is done really well onstage. They also sing beggin which I love and they didn’t sing it in the movie! But the structure of the musical is not great and that shows.

  • suzangrace

    PLEASE!! don’t let him make a film about the great Sinatra! the tv mini-series w/phillip cassnoff was great, don’t need another. he did jersey boys as a drama, not the fun and the music of the play. big let down. i like the last 5 mins of rock n roll hall of fame, and the dancing in the streets during the credits. the whole movie should have been that way. disappointment..

  • Nina

    I was really excited when I heard about this movie, but then I watched the trailer and thought it looked super boring.

  • Beowulf

    Eastwood is a Jazz person.

  • Harold Hill

    Finally saw this on cable TV.

    Just awful. Flat as a pancake, the energy never comes across. Eastwood destroyed and deflated a fantastic musical play down to minimalistic tripe.

    Go see the play instead, you’ll be thoroughly entertained and feel the energy that was the 4 Seasons!

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