- Jersey Boys (2014) movie review: Clint Eastwood unimaginatively traces the tedious rise and fall of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
Jersey Boys movie review: Great music fails to save Clint Eastwood’s dull version of the Broadway hit about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
Jersey Boys, Clint Eastwood’s semi-historically accurate biopic of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, is based on the long-running Broadway musical with book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, both of whom also penned the movie adaptation.
And it’s a crushing bore.
But for now, let’s focus on the positive.
John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli
In Eastwood’s film, the music and the performances of the music (which are not the same thing) are great. That’s in part due to the presence of John Lloyd Young, a Tony winner for his portrayal of Frankie Valli in the original stage show.
Lloyd Young happens to look a lot like Valli and has a four-plus octave range. He’s also a serviceable actor with a number of (mostly stage) credits that did not require a piercing falsetto.
That combination allows him to play Valli with just enough verisimilitude to smoothly slip into the music of the Four Seasons as if it were a sharkskin suit, and to convincingly bring to life the fairly lugubrious drama of Mr. Valli’s not particularly interesting life.
The Four Seasons resurrected
Other key Jersey Boys movie cast members are Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, and Vincent Piazza.
As songwriting genius Bob Gaudio – the linchpin addition to the flailing Four Lovers doo-wop group, then renamed the Four Seasons – the ridiculously handsome Erich Bergen is a hoot to watch. He can act, he can dance, and he’s funny.
Michael Lomenda makes his film debut as Nick Massi, the bass player. It’s a thankless role that Lomenda plays heartily, not unlike the long-suffering real-life character. In truth, Massi quit the band long before the moment depicted in Jersey Boys, but I don’t blame the filmmakers for taking license; the movie would have been that much more boring if they hadn’t. Lomenda is funny, and he can act, dance, and play bass at the same time, which is sumthin’ all by itself.
Vincent Piazza is Tommy DeVito, the former lead singer of several failed groups who has to give up the limelight to Frankie Valli, whose talent and charisma is indisputable. According to the film, DeVito is a scoundrel and an asshole who both puts the original group together and causes its eventual demise. Not long ago, Piazza had a good run as Lucky Luciano on the series Boardwalk Empire; he plays “ass” with relish, and he plays a nice rhythm guitar too. He’s good.
But once again, Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys movie is a bore.
‘Good’ cast not enough
Giving these guys – and they’re good – their big movie break is a noble effort on the part of Jersey Boys director-(co-)producer Clint Eastwood, a veteran who knows how tough a break in movies can be.
But I can’t help but imagine the diminutive Broadway actress Stephanie Mills – Dorothy in the Tony-winning 1974 musical The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical “Wonderful Wizard of Oz” – and her big, booming voice being cast in Sidney Lumet’s 1978 film The Wiz, which instead starred sinewy, doe-eyed Diana Ross and her fragile, lilting voice. The movie was panned, but the soundtrack was great.
So again, the cast of Jersey Boys is good. Unfortunately, good is not what a film otherwise as uninteresting as Jersey Boys needs. A film this dull needs great. These guys are good, which suggests Jersey Boys may be a movie with a great soundtrack.
Problematic Clint Eastwood
Not helping matters is Clint Eastwood’s uninspired direction which is only “good” enough to make Jersey Boys look fine.
As a matter of fact, the Warner Bros. backlot, which is where most of the film was shot, always looks fine. The staged New Jersey and New York streets, complete with the correct mix of automobiles from the late 1950s and 1960s, are meticulously recreated – as if from memory. Indeed, Jersey Boys is so “backlot,” so staid and staged, it might have actually been made in the ’50s.
Of course, several of the principals involved in the making of Jersey Boys – those not seen on screen – are septuagenarians or octogenarians and do remember these days, perhaps even these places, first hand. Executive producers Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio were guiding forces behind the Broadway show’s big-screen transfer, along with musical director Bob Crewe (played by Mike Doyle in the film).
In fact, most of the key decision-makers about the content found in Jersey Boys are people depicted by name in the movie. This is a circumstance that might be tamed only by a director as venerable as Clint Eastwood – who chooses not to do so. Eastwood loves the music of this era; he is enamored of these artists and his admiration shows in this flat, overly nostalgic, overly reverent, and totally paceless movie.
Lost in translation
Consequently, Jersey Boys meanders from one scene to the next, one year to the next, one season to the next, marking events as if they were on a checklist of notes handed down from the executive producers. Which they probably were.
The final result is a film that never whirls one up in the excitement of a young musical group being discovered, scratching their way to the top, having it all, and losing it all, even though that’s exactly what happened in the real-life history of the Four Seasons and in the hit stage musical. It’s also what takes place in Clint Eastwood’s monumentally boring movie.
Vexing, certainly, but the causes are simple. Jersey Boys is fodder for musical theater. That’s what it is, and that’s what it should be; sometimes it just does not translate. Chicago translated to cinema; All That Jazz, did not. Neither did A Chorus Line, Rent, etc.
And finally, despite the successful musical, Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys movie is boring because the story of the Four Seasons and the much beloved Mr. Frankie Valli is equally boring.
As the musical book authors and movie adapters, the great Marshall Brickman – co-writer of Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and Manhattan – and Rick Elice have a problem in that there is little in the history of the Four Seasons or Frankie Valli’s life that’s actually compelling, even given the real-life circumstance of their having become enduring pop stars. Remarkable, but true.
As found in Jersey Boys, the gist is the following: Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons were borderline delinquents who were mob-adjacent. But for the fact that they had talent, they’d have likely moved into the neighborhood.
Clint Eastwood’s film turns Valli into an angel and a stand-up guy who pays his debts – and apparently the debts of everyone else. And he only whored around a little. That’s pretty much it.
Brickman, Elice, and Eastwood attempt to hide this blandness by having everyone speak in Jerseyese: The accents, slang, and attitude are all Jersey. That’s cute, then irritating, then very irritating. And that’s exactly how I feel about the movie itself.
Lifeless ‘real life’
Ultimately, Jersey Boys proves that the Four Seasons have left a legacy of great music and that “truth” is often neither stranger than nor as interesting as fiction.
Here are a trio of movies set during that same period, while featuring great songs and great – though fictional – stories that won’t bore you senseless:
- Allison Anders’ Grace of My Heart (1996), a great movie with a great story, with Illeana Douglas (dubbed by Kristen Vigard) in her first major lead role, playing opposite Matt Dillon.
- Robert Townsend’s The Five Heartbeats (1991), which features a host of wonderful, young black actors, including Townsend himself and Leon (from Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” music video), the latter beautifully “not” playing Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations.
- Taylor Hackford’s The Idolmaker (1980), starring Ray Sharkey and a young Peter Gallagher.
A lover of this type of music, Hackford would receive an Academy Award nomination for directing another great period musical, Ray, one that is based on a true story – and he gets it right.
Jersey Boys (2014)
Director: Clint Eastwood.
Screenplay: Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice.
From Brickman & Elice’s book for the 2005 Broadway musical Jersey Boys.
Cast: John Lloyd Young. Michael Lomenda. Vincent Piazza. Erich Bergen. Christopher Walken. Renée Marino. Johnny Cannizzaro. Joseph Russo. Kathrine Narducci. Lou Volpe. John Griffin. Mike Doyle. Lacey Hannan.
“Jersey Boys (2014) Movie Review” notes
 This Jersey Boys movie review has been amended to reflect the fact that in Grace of My Heart Illeana Douglas was dubbed by Kristen Vigard, whose credits include playing the title character in the first presentations of the musical Annie in Connecticut in 1976 and performing as a backup singer with the bands Fishbone and the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the late 1980s and 1990s.
See this review’s comments section further below.
“Jersey Boys Movie” endnotes
Michael Lomenda, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen, and John Lloyd Young Jersey Boys movie images: Warner Bros.
“Jersey Boys Movie (2014) Review: Tedious Tale” last updated in January 2022.