Jersey Boys is a Clint Eastwood musical: which would once have sounded like the oxymoron of the year. (We don’t count the off-the-chart anomaly of Paint Your Wagon, where Eastwood’s he-man tunelessness was joined by Lee Marvin’s.) The last person most of us would pick to direct a film of the stage singalong about crooner Frankie Valli, 1960s New Jersey delinquent turned chart-topping heartthrob (“Sherry”), is the actor who used to turn delinquents into morgue furniture.
From the later Eastwood, though, actor turned director, we have come to expect more variety: pacifist war movies (Letters from Iwo Jima); anti-racist, brotherhood-preaching cop thrillers (Gran Torino). Approaching zimmer age, Clint can even, evidently, cut a rug as a song-and-dance director. I never saw the stage show, but the film – containing more straight dialogue and straight drama, experts tell me – moves confidently for 135 minutes, with bright performances (Tony winner John Lloyd Young as Frankie outstanding), catchy numbers, a sparkle-and-sepia period look and one sublime in-joke for moviemanes. In The Deer Hunter Christopher Walken played a Vietnam draftee who sang the Valli hit “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” at an eve-of-flight bar-room stag party freighted with foreboding. (Cue the famous jump-cut to south-east Asian combat holocaust.) Walken is back in this film, now a Mafia grandee, and so is the song: man and music reunited in the inferno that is Hollywood, which consumes all things but occasionally, Phoenix-like, recycles them in bizarre new forms.