Jersey Boys: Mediocre Eastwood Picture?

xtoxhrn72diAt 84, Clint Eastwood is one of the oldest and best filmmakers working in American cinema today.  Alongside Woody Allen, he directs a new film almost every year, and right now, his film output as a director is around three dozen films.

For decades, Eastwood has kept the Western genre alive, both as an actor and director.  For the 1992 superb Western, “Ünforgiven,” he had won the Best Picture and Best Director Awards.  Unlike Woody Allen or Scorsese, Eastwood also functions as producer, which gives his a greater measure of control.

Making mature films for adult viewers, in a market that’s decidedly dominated by special effects spectacles, blockbuster remakes, and increasingly young audiences, Eastwood deserves credit for refusing to compromise his choice of projects for commercial considerations.

I have followed Eastwood’s career ever since I was a teenager (when I “discovered” him in the Sergio Leone”s Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s) and have seen each of his films.

So it”s is with great reluctance but critical necessity that I have to declare his latest foray into musical biopic, “Jersey Boys,” is an artistic disappointment.  As director, Eastwood does not show a particularly strong affinity with the musical genre, though it should be pointed out that no other director, not even Rob Marshall (“Chicago,” but also “Nine”) could have opened up effectively such a thatrical material.

Like other “Broadway musicals that were adapated to the big screen, say “Mama Mia!” “Jersey Boy” the stage procution would outlive the film version–and for good reasons.

Known for his restrained and subdued approach, Eastwood seems unable to find the core of the narrative and so what we get is a tale that is so predictable in its rise-and-fall formula that it fails to connect with the audience on emotional level.

To his credit, Eastwood has never been a nostalgic or sentimental filmmaker, and his long-held classic, matter of fact strategy to any film he directs (western, war, adventure, and thriller) also defines, for better or worse (I think the latter) his helming of “Jersey Boys.”

At the end of the press screening, my friend spontaneously remarked: “I enjoyed much better the stage musical, there was no reason to see the story on the big screen, because it does not add much.”  I kept my mouth shut, but could not agree more with his assessment.

In order to survive and continue making the films he is good at, Eastwood needs to keep the budget of his picture on the lower side. Their cost is usually around the $30 million mark, and the budget of “Jersey Boys,” whoch is slightly higher ($40 million), but still low by standards of mainstreal Hollywood, guarantees that the film will recoup its investment (if not theatrically, then with the help of ancillary markets).

“Jersey Boys” came in fourth on its opening day, Friday, June 20, playing in 2,905 locations, with $4.6 million. The Warner picture is on track for grossing $14 million Stateside, as was anticipated by the the studio’s executives before the launch.  I suspect that “Jersey Boys” primarily targeted older audiences with its marketing, and that viewers who saw it opening weekend are likely fans of the hit stage version.

Yet, this time around, the movie has received decidedly mixed critical response (only 55% of the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are positive), which have not helped the film’s commercial prospects.  As is well-know, films directed by Eastwood, usually a critics darling, depend heavily on strong critical response and the favorable word-of-mouth that often accompanies positive response.

Eastwood will survive the bad reviews and lukewarm commercial response, and I, for one, cannot wait for him to direct his next film, which hopefully will suit his considerable skills and cinematic sensibility.