In most cases, if it has to do with Clint Eastwood, I’m for it. From Rowdy Yates to the Republican Convention, I’m behind him. I even bought a Thomas Kinkade painting because it shows Eastwood walking down the street of the little California town of which he once was mayor. And “Gran Torino,” wow.
I walked into “Jersey Boys” with high expectations: I like Eastwood’s work on so many counts. I like the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. And I lived for nearly 10 years in the towns and neighborhoods where much of the action takes place. But “Jersey Boys” didn’t make my day.
I try to be realistic. I don’t expect many movies to teach lessons I endorse or to share my worldview. As long as they tell an interesting story in an interesting way, I’m happy.
I was partly pleased by “Jersey Boys.” In an era when shock and offense too often replace intelligence, it’s one of the few R-rated movies where the sex and violence take place primarily off screen. That’s fine. I’m not complaining about that. I’m complaining about what happens on screen, which is, in a word, stereotypical. These aren’t fleshed out characters with interesting or individual things to say. They’re stereotypes. They could stand in for each other. I’m not certain they didn’t.
From Clint Eastwood, who is famously the master of subtle, I expected, and I wanted, more. The idiosyncratic nuance of Walt Kowalski -- hard headed, soft hearted, bigoted, and oddly principled -- is missing from “Jersey Boys.” No character in it has subtlety. Nothing in the entire movie has Walt’s layered, nuanced, multi-dimensional, texture or anything approaching it. “Trouble with the Curve” did.
I suspect that Eastwood the director could have been Mad Max before Mad Max, as Eastwood movies before “The Unforgiven” attest. After forays into spaghetti westerns, orangutan movies, and cop flicks, and after genre classics like “Dirty Harry” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” Eastwood unleashed his real genius. We learned that he has more finesse, more subtlety, and more nuance than almost any movie man of the era, whether before or behind the camera. I’m glad Eastwood finally resisted those temptations and embraced art. After “The Unforgiven,” the violence recedes; the nuance grows. From him, we don’t get the spurting blood fountains of “The Passion of the Christ,” which could have been titled “Mad Max Goes to Golgotha,” or “Lethal Weapon in Jerusalem.” Eastwood chose his own different path, and he was right.
But in “Jersey Boys,” Eastwood’s gift failed him. Subtle gone bad turns flat and boring. Yes, and in a movie about The Four Seasons and their ostensibly inimitable front man, Frankie Valli, you can’t ask someone to imitate him and expect to succeed. Were the replacement actually to succeed, the movie’s own premise would collapse. Were he not to succeed, the movie itself would collapse. In “Jersey Boys,” Eastwood got himself into a tight spot, maybe an impossible one. While the whole move is based on the premise that there is no other Frankie Valli, for 2 ¼ hours we watch someone try to do what the movie says, and unintentionally proves, cannot be done: replace the irreplaceable.
And to turn the final scene of a pseudo-biopic into an outtake from a Broadway musical is, if not unforgiven, certainly unforgiveable. That this scene stands out so starkly and incongruously from what precedes it shows that trying to give this movie the feel of a stage play all along just didn’t work. Before the final scene was over, I swear I expected to see Gene Kelly dancing in the rain, which is not how a Four Seasons flick ought to end.
I don’t want to see this movie again.
I haven’t said that about a Clint Eastwood movie for many years.