Jersey Boys Review: Too True To Be Good

Clint Eastwood has been many things behind a camera, but I’m not sure that “zippy” has ever been one of them. So it was a bit of a surprise to find him directing Jersey Boys, a film based on a hit Broadway musical about the rise and plateau of singer Frankie Valli and the band The Four Seasons. It was considerably less of a surprise to discover that he worked his way into a corner. The plot and execution of Jersey Boys demands a certain amount of momentum and zeal that Eastwood’s restrained approach never quite captures, leaving a film that plays like a bloated work print in desperate need of a few hundred splices.

Jersey Boys is the tale of four boys from New Jersey who worked their way up from menial jobs and low hanging criminal enterprises into the beloved pop quartet that gave the world songs like “Sherry,” “Walk Like a Man” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” And like the most pedestrian of biopics, the film frames itself around the creation of those songs and even the fabled name of the band as cutesy bullet points. In one scene the quartet, heretofore known as “The Four Lovers,” can’t come up with a new name for themselves. Then a neon bowling alley sign lights up behind them reading “Four Seasons.” Sillier yet, they declare at that moment that “It’s a sign.”

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That’s a line of dialogue that demands a certain amount of humor and self-awareness to pull off, but Clint Eastwood plays it seriously. In fact, he plays pretty much the whole movie like a low-key, off-key TV mini-series that simply plows from plot point to plot point with the raison d’etre of getting the whole history of The Four Seasons on camera but in no apparent rush finish up. Meanwhile, those Four Seasons race across the screen, fast-talking into the camera like they’re impatient for Eastwood to follow along and catch up to what they’re really doing. Their ascension to stardom lacks momentum and their relatively unremarkable fall from grace slows the plot down even further, even as the exuberant songs and enthusiastic cast are clearly crying out for more passionate treatment.

Aside from the fact that they were a good band, Jersey Boys never really captures anything important about The Four Seasons. There’s no historical context, no subtext, there’s just an awful lot of text that fails to explain why any of this story matters, or even capture any of the energy that the band obviously embodied on stage. Although the film looks great and features some fine performances – and will probably forever change the way you remember actor Joe Pesci – it never really picks up until the closing credits, when Eastwood finally remembers that the foremost point of producing a Broadway musical is to put on an entertaining show. But by then, we’ve long since taken our eyes off of this floppy movie.


William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline’s Film Channel and the host of The B-Movies Podcast and The Blue Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.