If you think summer movies are clamorous, try a current Broadway musical. Watching Jersey Boys onstage is like soldiering through some extreme eating contest where you're force-fed dessert for three straight hours. It's all falsetto heroics and hustled-through character drama, every scene over-scored, over-rehearsed, and overbearing. And it's often glorious, even as the sugar rush of "Sherry" chills and hardens into a brain freeze.
Clint Eastwood's likable film of Jersey Boys never overdoes it. Eastwood's metabolism saps along at about half the rate of a Broadway director's; rather than an assault, his Jersey Boys is a parade of expertly staged (if often familiar) moments that on occasion do something the stage version never attempts: feel a little bit like life as humans live it, or at least like life as it is in old movies. Then, at healthy intervals, John Lloyd Young (the Tony–winner who originated the Frankie Valli role on Broadway) uncorks that falsetto, and the gush of pleasure washes away the film's minor infelicities.
Eastwood has a feel for street toughs and their prickly pride, anchoring early scenes of street crime and bar life with welcome weight. The Four Seasons' misadventures feel scrappy and desperate, and the rifts that spread within the band -- mostly fights over girls and money -- come to feel momentous. The performances are tough-minded and idiosyncratic, especially Vincent Piazza's Tommy DeVito, a bullying prick who touches some universal pathos: the sadness of the cocksure also-ran. If you have any love for the music, Jersey Boys should steamroll right over you. The highlight: the climactic "Can't Take My Eyes off You," a grown-up hit that eschews the old sugar rush in favor of sublimity.