In the opening credits of Jersey Boys, there's something unusual for a modern movie: an overture. And in the closing credits, the entire cast gathers in a curtain call. If you watched only these two moments, you might think director Clint Eastwood knows how to turn a Broadway musical into a movie, something few filmmakers have mastered. But the rest of Jersey Boys shows that he doesn't grasp which elements of the musical should be kept and which should be changed.
Jersey Boys tells the story of pop music legends the Four Seasons. In Newark, N.J., childhood friends and small-time criminals Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young) and Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) perform club gigs with bassist Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda). Frankie changes his last name to Valli as he and the gang get more serious about performing, and they eventually connect with songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen). Soon they're recording chart-topping hits. Around the same time, tension escalates within the group. The audience gets great bits of trivia along the way, like the role actor Joe Pesci plays in the act's formation.
The stage version of Jersey Boys had each Four Seasons member narrate his own version of the story. In the film, the characters address the audience sporadically, but not in a cleanly organized fashion. As a result, the movie loses the notion that each musician recalls his rise and fall in a unique way. This leaves a standard musical biopic complete with the kind of "everyone instantly realizes this new sound is amazing" scene Walk Hard mocks so brilliantly.
The approach to the music is frustrating, too. While the audience is treated to terrific Four Seasons hits like "Sherry" and "Big Girls Don't Cry," the narrative pauses for these performances, causing the film's pace to lag. The biggest problem, however, is the acting. Jersey Boys overflows with broad characterizations that might work on a stage but feel overwrought on a big screen, from Tommy's "fuggedaboudit" strutting to the flamboyant mannerisms of the band's producer (Mike Doyle). Young, who won a Tony for playing Frankie on Broadway, understands the sense of loyalty that complicates his character's relationship with volatile, fiscally irresponsible Tommy. But instead of focusing his energy on this conflict, he gets stuck in melodramatic shouting matches with his wife (Renée Marino).
Jersey Boys also contains an ironic moment where Frankie receives some pointers before appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show. He's told to perform for the camera rather than the balcony. I don't think Eastwood gave his actors that advice. He clearly loves the idea of filming Jersey Boys, but unfortunately, his enthusiasm isn't enough to make this movie work.