Overview: Clint Eastwood’s best movie in several years still lacks a spark. Warner Bros; 2014; Rated R; 134 minutes.
Old Dog, Old Tricks: Clint Eastwood has put his Unforgiven days behind him. He’s an old dog in the directing chair and doesn’t have any surprising tricks. His movies look authentic, and Jersey Boys feels sincere enough, but it also feels like the safest execution of this story. Chronicling the musical career of the Four Seasons is ripe with potential for “Oscar Bait” but the stakes are low throughout the entire movie. Eastwood’s direction is just fine, but only just. It’s not lazy but with a story that feels a little too familiar (Even for someone who’s never seen the Broadway musical) the direction requires some flare.
Misplaced Intentions: Several actors from the original musical return and the result is rather disappointing. I imagine the performances would be aces on stage. Here they’re uncalculated performances, ranging from over-the-top to utterly ballistic. Even Christopher Walken feels like a cartoon version of himself. A director like Baz Luhrmann would have served the actors’ extreme performances well. Luhrmann’s heightened sense of reality and operatic scope always leaves a mixed response with audiences, but at least it would have been worth talking about.
Eastwood does have an eye for visual satisfaction. The camera moves around the beautiful 1960s sets with a smooth hand. Unfortunately, even that is ruined by the constant breaking of the fourth wall. The Wolf of Wall Street used this tool to make the audience feel like they’re in on the dirty secret. In Jersey Boys, it feels like the characters are repeating information we already know.
How are the songs? They’re catchy as hell. I’ll be damned if I wasn’t humming “Sherry” on my way home from the theater. If there’s any point where the acting works, it’s in the musical numbers. That’s when the movie feels most alive.
Final Thoughts: Maybe Clint Eastwood’s best directing days are behind him. Maybe he needs to direct himself in front of the camera to really remind us how he became Hollywood royalty. If only he could hit those Frankie Vallie notes. Skip the movie. Buy the soundtrack.