Clint Eastwood no longer has anything to prove to anyone and can afford to pursue whatever projects he desires. That one of them should be Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice's massively successful Broadway musical about the story of pop singer Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons isn't that much of a surprise if you factor in the actor/director's love of music (Honkytonk Man and Bird come immediately to mind). But it remains a peculiar choice for Mr. Eastwood since the New Jersey backdrop and the rock'n'roll and mobster connotations of the tale place it so squarely in Mean Streets Martin Scorsese territory - it's kind of Goodfellas meets That Thing You Do!, with Vincent Piazza imbuing his Tommy de Vito with the low-life swagger of a young De Niro or Ray Liotta, with a side of Chazz Palminteri's Bronx Tale to boot and a sprinkling of Sopranos-lite.
Either way, the central dynamic in Jersey Boys lies in the band's constant see-sawing between two opposite poles. Angel-voiced singer Frankie (John Lloyd Young) and inspired songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) embody the essence of the American blue collar dream of hard work as a means to move up to the world; the smart but insecure guitarist Tommy is the breezy, shady grifter always out to con somebody else before he is conned. That tension between facade and reality, inside and outside, lies at the heart of the story as it has in so many Eastwood movies about people focussed to the point of obsession; a tension replicated in the adherence to the play's breaking-the-fourth-wall addresses to the audience and in the shifting of narrators between the four group members, presenting different (but not necessarily contradicting) versions of a same tale. And it is also replicated in Mr. Eastwood's desire to simultaneously follow the conventions and flaunt them openly: Jersey Boys is not your typical musical, where song and dance are inbuilt into the narrative flow, but a "jukebox" where the songs are used as both temporal markers and background commentary to the narrative.
The narrative, however, is a standard rise-and-fall, rags-to-riches arc, filmed with all the awareness of the material's limitations and like an old-fashioned studio hand would have in the halcyon days of the studio system: deftly, economically, effectively, but also strangely anonymously, as indeed most of Mr. Eastwood's post-2008 work (The Changeling, Hereafter, J. Edgar). Hardly a strikeout - the director knows what he is doing - but neither is it a classic in the vein of later masterpieces such as Letters from Iwo Jima or Gran Torino. It's a film that would have needed a different energy, a different drive, to actually be more than just an amiable filming of a Broadway hit; there are enough tantalizing clues throughout of what it could have been, but the end result is somewhat not as big as the sum of the parts.
Cast John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Vincent Piazza, Christopher Walken
Director Clint Eastwood; screenwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice; based on the stage play by Messrs. Brickman and Elice, Jersey Boys: The True Story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons; songs by Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe; cinematographer Tom Stern (colour, widescreen); designer James J. Murakami; costumes Deborah Hopper; editors Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach; effects supervisor Michael Owens; choreographer Sergio Trujillo; producers Mr. Eastwood, Graham King and Robert Lorenz; production companies Warner Bros. Pictures, GK Films and The Malpaso Company in association with Ratpac-Dune Entertainment
Screened August 29th 2014, NOS Alvaláxia 5, Lisbon (distributor press screening)