There are a number of biographies that harness the magic and power of great music and the musicians who create it, and in so doing yield a memorable cinematic experience. Crazy Heart (yes, I know it was fiction but my point still applies), The Doors, Hilary and Jackie, Walk the Line, Shine, and Amadeus are all triumphs of the musical biography genre, and each one stands among my most treasured movies.
So that brings us to Jersey Boys and Clint Eastwood, a model of inconsistency. It’s remarkable to think that this movie was made by the same person who brought us the powerful stories Mystic River and Gran Torino. That that person is Clint Eastwood only deepens the mystery. Jersey Boys is mostly muddled, meandering, uninspired storytelling with “no direction home.”
As an example of the amateur hour often at hand, the film starts out with the caption “New Jersey, 1951”. Next thing we know — without any apparent time passing — there’s a reference to the song “Earth Angel”. When I saw that, it bothered me — I didn’t know when “Earth Angel” was released, but 1951 seemed a few years too early. Sure enough, “Earth Angel” was not released until late 1954. What difference is a couple years here or there? Plenty, damn it — you’re giving a history of music, so get it right. Anachronisms plagued Jersey Boys on a number of occasions, and I found it distracting. I swear there was even an out-of-place lighted touch-tone phone — get with the program, Clint!
Jersey Boys wrestled with larger issues; the entire project lacked any sort of central unifying theme or vision. But there was one thing I liked a lot: the music.
Now one thing’s clear. If you don’t LOVE the music, you will not have a good time with this movie at all. And I do love the music — after all, these Frankie Valli songs are great classics of Rock ‘n Roll for a reason. That is one place where this movie succeeds over a film about music of a similar era, last year’s Inside Llewyn Davis. The songs are a known quantity, and the quality of that quantity is off the charts. And there is still a lot of entertainment value here with good performances all around. But as a movie, when Jersey Boys loses sight of the great music — which it does too often — it trips over itself and stops being fun. 5/10