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What Went Wrong with 'Jersey Boys'? (VIDEO)

Video
by Anne Thompson
June 25, 2014 5:05 PM
8 Comments
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Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair Eastwood and his "Jersey Boys"

It's easy to see how Warner Bros. turned to their A-list director-producer Clint Eastwood, known for his calm, economic, unpretentious, methodical filmmaking, for the 60s period musical "Jersey Boys." After directing 37 movies, he can do period in his sleep, from "Invictus" to "Changeling,"--on a budget. He's a composer and jazz pianist who knows music (Cannes prize-winner "Bird").  "It's just a lot of good songs," he told Vanity Fair. "You go home humming a different one every night." And he's great with actors. The Tony-winning musical also had a good chance of being Oscar bait--likely to play well to the seniors in the Academy who have voted Eastwood movies many Oscars over the years, from "Mystic River" to Best Picture-winners "Unforgiven" and "Million Dollar Baby."

'Jersey Boys'

But the movie looks bland and brown: while it may be accurate for the period, it's not visually compelling. And Eastwood made the disastrous decision, when casting this Broadway adaptation about the career of Frankie Valli (the Broadway hit's John Lloyd Young), to hang onto the original book writers, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elise, who did not change the structure of the musical, so that each of the Four Seasons tell their version of the story, sometimes directly to camera--which takes you out of the movie. He also cast many actors from the show. The one movie actor playing a Four Season, Vincent Piazza ("Boardwalk Empire"), pops every time he is on screen, which cannot be said of the others, who only come to life when they are singing their hits: “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)." The music is sublime.

Clearly that's what Eastwood cared most about. One of the best moments in the film comes late when Valli first croons "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and a huge brass band blasts onto the screen. "I wanted to give Frankie Valli the horn section he always wanted," Eastwood told me at the rooftop party after the Los Angeles Film Festival premiere (video of his LAFF intro to the movie is below). Significantly, all the Warners brass attended, from studio topper Kevin Tsujihara and distribution head Dan Fellman to studio co-president Sue Kroll. 

As much as I value the old-fashioned strengths in Eastwood's storytelling over the years, in this case I'd have loved to see a director mix things up, try some new ways to make this story literally sing. 


It was a sign that the studio knew the 60s musical wasn't an awards contender when it opted not to wait for Oscar perennial Eastwood's customary year-end slot, but instead opened the movie in June. They knew from their tracking that the film would pull only one audience quadrant--seniors. That's 83-year-old Eastwood's target demo, and the music was huge in the 60s. So boomers showed up in theaters. Would Warners have been better off opening later in the fall? No. This was their best shot at grabbing an opening weekend, because they got mixed reviews. (Indiewire's Eric Kohn and I dig into "Jersey Boys" in our latest podcast.) 

Next up for Eastwood is the already wrapped "American Sniper," which should be more in his dramatic action wheelhouse. He inherited the project, as he did "Bridges of Madison County" and "Flags of Our Fathers," from Steven Spielberg. Warners production chief Greg SIlverman approached him about directing the bestselling autobiography of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), an expert marksman who survived multiple tours in Iraq only to be gunned down back home. 

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More: Clint Eastwood, Jersey Boys, Video

8 Comments

  • REALLY? I mean...REALLY?? | June 27, 2014 5:15 PMReply

    HELLO, it's a movie about "The Four Seasons." The girls lining up to see "Cancer Teenagers in Love" and the boys lining up to see "Black People in Las Vegas" don't CARE.

    Although I'm sure it's a good movie, as Eastwood is a major force.

  • Louis | June 26, 2014 4:33 PMReply

    I Enjoyed it, going again.

  • AJ | June 26, 2014 9:57 AMReply

    Saw the movie and thought it was great. People in the audience were singing with the songs and stayed through the credits to here the music. We go to the movies to be entertained and we were entertained. It was really nice, when we got in our car to go home, Sherri was being played on the radio. Eastwood did a great job with this movie. It must be nice to sit back and bash a movie when that person has no idea how to make a movie themselves. All they really know is how to bash others works.

  • teb | June 26, 2014 1:49 AMReply

    The movie follows the Broadway show exactly...saying that you've seem the play and then complaining about how the film uses the music shows you really did not see the play...the play uses the music only as background or when the group is on stage or recording..parts of songs are used to transition to the next scene..the play is a drama with the music as background to the story..there are no long Broadway type musical numbers anywhere in the play except it the final curtain..the play is dimly lit except durning the musical numbers...All of this is carried over to the movie except the dramatic scenes are given more depth in the film making them easier to follow..The Broadway show earned its following and great reviews because everyone liked the fact that the main emefsist was on the story not the music like other jukebox musicals..now the film comes out and complainers want 2 hours of production numbers and show tunes..Only people that did not see the play got something they were not expecting because the film has the same pacing and storytelling as the show..

  • V.M.L. | June 25, 2014 9:22 PMReply

    Sorry but you list exactly the WRONG reasons why JERSEY BOYS missed the mark! Never mind the visual-look of the film or the casting! Those aren't reasons why it failed! I don't know about you but I've actually seen both the stage musical and film. (By the way, I'm 26 and not part of the "target audience.")

    The stage version's RASHOMON-way of telling events was one reason why it was compelling, but the film dampened that to put more focus on Tommy and Frankie, while somewhat silencing the other guys. If character arcs hadn't been tampered, audiences would have connected more to the characters, and certain scenes, like the band's reunion at the end, would have retained its emotional impact. At least Vincent Piazza has a lot of screentime in the movie, which is great because I love him on BOARDWALK EMPIRE.

    However, the film's biggest failure is that it wasn't a musical. Essentially, Clint Eastwood (or a post-ROCK-OF-AGES Warner Bros, you can say) turned a musical about a band's forming, rise to fame, and breakup into a crime drama about men who so happened to be in a band. I kid you not, that wasn't what audiences were expecting, especially when the stage version has been around for years now and still attracts fans and curious audiences who know nothing of the Four Seasons. What bothered me the most about the film was that some of the songs were used as background music or were cut off to transition to scenes, whereas every song was a number on stage.

    Whatever changes they made to "move" the story or establish a central character and plot, they were mostly needless, I found. Therefore, I was disappointed with the film.

  • KJ | June 25, 2014 10:47 PM

    I totally agree. It was a drama with music vs a musical. It wasn't fun. The stage version is fun even with the relationships of the Four Seasons. I just wish Clint Eastwood would have kept more of the music in his adaptation.

  • setenza | June 25, 2014 8:49 PMReply

    Another critic misses the point. If all Eastwood wanted to do was make a musical, then the songs would have been the dominant factor. What makes the Four Seasons' story meaningful is their story. The music is what they produced, memorable, inventive, and satisfying. But Eastwood is a storyteller. How these young men came to be, how they managed to make it against the odds is what he was after.

  • Larry Scott | June 29, 2014 5:21 PM

    I agree. If it had been all about the music, the movie would have been just another dull musical. Works well on stage, but movies are different. I was thoroughly entertained. It's a biopic. The critics need to find a dictionary and look up the definition. I suppose they're called "critics" for a good reason (critical of everything)! I've been watching movies for 55+ years, and I still can't understand why some people just can't sit back and enjoy a good film.

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