Clint Eastwood is not a terrible director, and, despite undeserved flak, this is not a terrible film. In fact, some scenes work you over impressively, even if you never believed the people who brought us “Walk Like a Man” and “Rag Doll” were comparable to Lennon and McCartney. Eastwood rocks the club scenes and, exploiting the stage play’s format, shoots through the group to show us audience members ogling Frankie Valli and the boys. It makes the bubble-gum phenomenon seem almost sexy. In one scene set in a giant Detroit supper club, the camera comes in from the roof as if Eastwood were doing Citizen Kane. Valli (John Lloyd Young, who played the role on Broadway) opens with an intimate band and then curtains part to reveal a symphonic orchestra. Meanwhile, Eastwood prowls the crowd of pretty people to let us know that this (oh, what a night) likely was the greatest show on Earth.
Half of Jersey Boys the movie is brilliant, and you can actually see personal touches — something the stolid auteur has previously avoided. In one particular apartment party scene, there’s a TV on in the background; on it we see a young Eastwood displayed in thrilling black-and-white. The movie’s problems arrive when the director courts the stupid clichés of the genre: the battle between road and family, the code of growing up Jersey. What you want from a jukebox movie is a big production number, and Eastwood gives us three, along with a lot of fun ethnic shtick, too.
He’s not an art-house director or even a good convention speaker, for that matter. Eastwood makes spectacular low-brow genre films, tweaking — and sometimes nearly redefining — formula entertainments like westerns (Unforgiven), slashers (Play Misty for Me), and even boxing movies (Million Dollar Baby). This is one of the better examples of the often tawdry music-world biopic (Ray, Walk the Line). It may be corny, but while watching it, you’ll feel like hanging on to what you’ve got.