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At the end of “Jersey Boys,” Clint Eastwood’s likable, resolutely laid-back adaptation of the Broadway musical, the actors all freeze. They’ve just performed their last song on a set that looks so artificial that you half-expect the Sharks and the Jets to leap into the frame. Instead, that Jersey music man Frankie Valli and the other Seasons, along with a crowd of central-casting types, gather one last time and together warble and fancy-foot down a back-lot street. They finish big and then they all stop, staring straight ahead as sweat pops and bodies tremble under the now harsh lighting. That’s entertainment, baby, and it is hard work.
“Jersey Boys” is a strange movie, and it’s a Clint Eastwood enterprise, both reasons to see it. For those with a love of doo-wop, it also provides a toe-tapping, ear-worming stroll down rock ’n’ roll memory lane that dovetails with that deeply cherished American song and dance about personal triumph over adversity through hard work, tough times and self-sacrifice. It’s a redemption narrative that’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it. No wonder it’s been such a popular trip: The stage version of “Jersey Boys” opened in 2005 on Broadway, where it’s still going strong, and has long been printing money around the world, from Australia to South Africa.
Like the original musical, the movie was written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and has a clever, inviting narrative gimmick: all four of the Seasons take turns telling the group’s tale. This has led to the musical’s being sloppily likened to “Rashomon,” a comparison that works only if you’ve never seen that 1950 Akira Kurosawa touchstone. In “Rashomon,” four characters recount a traumatic episode in a forest — a woman is raped and her husband murdered — in separate, contradictory flashbacks. Together, the four versions don’t add up to one unified, coherently climaxing story: The mystery remains unsolved and the reminiscences remain contingent, which makes the film as much about storytelling as a crime.