Jersey Boys

00:00 June 26, 2014
By: Fritz Esker
[Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures]

** and 1/2 out of ***

Clint Eastwood may have retired from acting, but he's still working hard behind the camera at age 84 (he'll have American Sniper in theaters next year, too). Jersey Boys, like almost all of his directorial efforts, has its merits, but is unlikely to make Eastwood's career highlight reel.

The film is based on the hit Broadway "jukebox musical" about Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) and the Four Seasons. They rise from obscurity in New Jersey to fame. Like most bands depicted on screen, they suffer from infighting, jealousy, greed, ambition, etc. And there are other moments when the movie is a little too by-the-numbers, like the scene where songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) gets the inspiration for "Big Girls Don't Cry." Scenes like these were brilliantly parodied in Walk Hard and should be shelved from all future musical biopics.

But the film has its virtues. Eastwood's direction is typically and admirably subdued; in the hands of a different director, Jersey Boys could've deteriorated into cheese or camp. All of the songs (except for the ending credits one) are sung naturalistically in recording sessions or live shows. Even though it's a musical, people don't spontaneously break out into song on the street.

The script's most interesting gimmick has each of the four members periodically addressing the camera/audience to voice their (often contradictory) perspectives on what's happening. The best sustained section of the film is when the "Ringo" of the group (Michael Lomenda) gets to voice his frustrations over being overlooked and mistreated by the other three.

At 134 minutes, Jersey Boys is longer than it needs to be; it sags in its final act before a decent conclusion at the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. And it ends up in a kind of limbo - it's too low-key and thoughtful to likely please fans of Broadway spectacle, but it's also not quite as good films like All That Jazz or Pennies From Heaven, the best examples of "musicals for people who don't normally like musicals."

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