With 'Jersey Boys,' Clint Eastwood Made a Movie Musical That's Barely a Musical

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Perhaps the biggest crime of Clint Eastwood's Jersey Boys is that "Sherry" is not stuck in my head to an annoying degree. "Walk Like A Man" isn't either. Nor is "Big Girls Don't Cry." The chorus of "Who Loves You" has sort of worked its way into my brain, but only faintly. Eastwood has directed a semi-musical that only partially cares about the music. 

Now this isn't entirely Eastwood's fault. Without the trappings of a Broadway theater, it makes sense that Jersey Boys would lose some of its gusto. There is no need for musical theater-style numbers when a movie can tell a naturalistic biographical story. The thrill of seeing the stage production—which, I have seen, and to be honest, it was not that memorable—was hearing John Lloyd Young (who also takes on the role of Frankie Valli in the film) recreate his iconic sound live. When the show premiered, Ben Brantley wrote in the New York Times: "Inhaling the cheers of the crowd, Mr. Young as Mr. Valli glistens with that mix of tears and sweat, of humility and omnipotence, that signal that a hungry performer's need for approval has been more than met."  

On screen, though, not even the music is quite that visceral. Though Young does a perfect imitation of Valli, you might as well be listening to a recording of the man himself. By the time the boys start making hits, which comes around the hour mark, one number is indistinguishable from the rest—just with slightly different hand movements, if even that. 

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Capturing the energy and thrill of a live performance is an intangible thing, but it's the duty of a film like this to do so. Perhaps the only time when it comes close, is the production number choreographed to "December, 1963 (Oh What a Night)" that accompanies the closing credits. It's the only musical number in the film that feels like it's from an actual musical, and therefore seems out of place, but at least everyone on screen seems like they are having fun. That's a welcome site after sitting through the slog of the second half, which falls into the-band's-breaking-up-clichés, and shoehorns in the story of how Valli's daughter died of a drug overdoseThe movie does have some cheeky moments—which are either cute or groan-worthy depending on your mood—including a cameo on a television set from Eastwood's younger self. 

On a whole, though, the movie feels laconic. The Four Seasons' music is bouncy, joyful, and infectious. Jersey Boys just can't catch it. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.