'Jersey Boys': What the Critics Are Saying

Clint Eastwood's Jersey Boys, out Friday, adapts the hit Broadway musical tracing the professional rise and personal pitfalls of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (who wrote the Tony-winning musical), the film also features Christopher Walken and actors of the original Broadway production or its other tours: John Lloyd Young, who originated the role on Broadway in 2005, Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda, plus Boardwalk Empire's Vincent Piazza.

The Warner Bros. release is positioned as the first summer title for older adults and is predicted to open in the $12 million to $13 million range.

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Read what top critics are saying about Jersey Boys.

The Hollywood Reporter's chief film critic Todd McCarthy says in his review that "very few other American pop groups with roots in the pre-British Invasion period remain as listenable today as The Four Seasons and this, combined with the GoodFellas-lite backdrop, give Jersey Boys, both onstage and onscreen, all the juice it needs." Relative to the generally upbeat stage version, "Eastwood goes for a more mixed mood, combining the joy of the music with what Valli, in particular, lost and could never regain." One downside is that "very occasionally … the feeling of the studio backlot is inescapable, and there are a couple of Jersey neighborhood vistas that simply look too California, including one with mountains visible in the far background."

Of the singing group, McCarthy notes that "both musically and dramatically, all four actors playing bandmembers register distinctively; Young has Frankie down cold, Piazza sharply expresses Tommy’s streetwise edge and impulsiveness but with enough likability to suggest why everyone always forgave the guy, while Bergen is very appealing as the nice-guy outsider who provided the essential missing ingredient to the band. [MichaelLomenda’s Massi hangs in the background much of the time but finally emerges interestingly when he takes over as a narrator." Other characters like "Doyle’s brashly confident Bob Crewe supplies not only energy but interesting gay currents to an otherwise macho Italian-American scene."

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The New York Times' Manohla Dargis calls it "a strange movie, and it’s a Clint Eastwood enterprise, both reasons to see it.… It’s a redemption narrative that’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it." Young shines when singing, but fades otherwise; "that’s partly because the Frankie of Jersey Boys turns out to be really dull: nice, square and uncomplicated to a fault," disappearing into the monochromatic palette. "It's disappointing that Mr. Eastwood, a director who can convey extraordinary depths of feeling in his work, didn’t do more with this material … the family stuff seriously undermines the musical’s claims on the truth."

Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times observes that "as much as showcasing the music, Eastwood has been interested in the parts of the play that recount the entire span of these intertwined lives and show as much concern for the group's turbulent relationships away from the studio as for the music that flowed out of it. If this involvement with what it took for four guys from the mean streets of New Jersey to become international celebrities gives Jersey Boys a bit of a darker cast than its Broadway predecessor, that doesn't stop it from being pleasantly enjoyable. Eastwood, as always, has simply done things his own way, and the result is a leisurely old-school entertainment with a bit more edge than you may be expecting." 

The  Washington Post's Stephanie Merry says that "seeing the movie onscreen is a lot like seeing it in a playhouse — and that’s okay. After all, the story is dramatic, with its tale of kids from a rough neighborhood who shoot to fame with catchy hit after catchy hit but can’t quite keep it together. Plus, the dialogue is witty and the music is phenomenal." Yet she calls the plot in both the film and the stage production "overstuffed," that in revealing Valli's tragedies, "with so much attention paid to the band and so little to his personal life up until that point, the misfortune feels shoehorned into the story as a way to exhibit the hero hitting rock bottom."

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Time's Richard Corliss writes that the film is "a turgid botch" and blames Eastwood's disregard for the actual music of the musical. "At 2 hr. 14 min. the movie is nearly as long as the Jersey Boys show, but with much more talking and a lot less singing. If you want to hear all the songs, buy the greatest-hits album … they sound much crisper than they do in the film.… since Eastwood uses most of the songs as filler, he may as well have had his actors lip-sync the Seasons’ tracks. But he either couldn’t hear the difference or just didn't care."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee

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